This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-68

 

 

Rhonda Wynne Hamann,

petitioner,

 

County of Crow Wing,

petitioner,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Forrest Lee Crocker,

Appellant.

 

 

Filed November 4, 2003

Reversed and remanded
Klaphake, Judge

 

Crow Wing County District Court

File No. F3-90-50280

 

 

Candace Prigge, Kristine DeMay, Assistant County Attorneys, County Service Building, 322 Laurel Street, P.O. Box 686, Brainerd, MN  56401 (for respondent)

 

Gregory Lange, Charpentier & Lange, 718 Front Street, Brainerd, MN  56401 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.

 

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

KLAPHAKE, Judge

            Forrest Lee Crocker appeals from an order setting his child support obligation at $783.50 per month for a child born in 1988.  In 1990, the district court ordered Crocker to pay temporary child support of $105 per month under Minn. Stat. § 257.62, subd. 5 (1990) (when blood tests indicate likelihood of paternity at above 92%, district court may order temporary child support, which is paid into escrow pending completion of paternity proceedings).  No further action was taken until January 2002, when the district court requested scheduling information from the parties and set the matter back on the calendar.

            On appeal from the order setting his child support obligation at the guidelines amount for one child, Crocker argues that the district court erred in refusing to consider the needs of his three subsequent children.  Respondent Crow Wing County Social Services argues that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to deviate downward and in setting Crocker’s obligation at the guidelines amount.

            Because the district court misread the child support guidelines when it concluded that it was prohibited from considering the needs of Crocker’s subsequent children and because the evidence strongly suggests that Crocker will be unable to meet the obligation ordered by the court, we reverse and remand.

D E C I S I O N

            A district court has broad discretion to determine child support, and we will not reverse its decision absent an abuse of discretion.  Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 347 (Minn. 2002).  An abuse of discretion occurs when the district court “resolves the matter in a manner that is against logic and the facts on the record.”  In re Paternity of J.M.V., 656 N.W.2d 558, 562 (Minn. App. 2003).  An abuse of discretion also occurs when the district court improperly applies the law to the facts.  Ver Kuilen v. Ver Kuilen, 578 N.W.2d 790, 792 (Minn. App. 1998).

            The district court denied Crocker’s request to deviate downward or otherwise consider the needs of his subsequent children.  The court reasoned that consideration of the needs of subsequent children is prohibited under Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5f (2002), which states in pertinent part:

Subsequent children.  The needs of subsequent children shall not be factored into a support guidelines calculation under subdivision 5.  The fact that an obligor had additional children after entry of a child support order is not grounds for a modification to decrease the amount of support owed.  However, the fact that an obligor has subsequent children shall be considered in response to a request by an obligee for a modification to increase child support.

 

While this subdivision prohibits the needs of subsequent children from being factored into a guidelines calculation, it does not prohibit the needs of subsequent children from being considered in determining an appropriate amount of child support.[1]  The district thus misread this subdivision when it concluded that it was prohibited from considering the needs of Crocker’s subsequent children.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5f, directs a court to make certain findings “[i]n order to deviate from the support guidelines . . . to consider the needs of subsequent children.”  Id.  Those findings must consider the “obligor’s total ability to contribute to dependent children,” the “total needs of all the obligor’s children,” and the needs of the child who is the subject of the support order under consideration, and must show that the court has “exercise[d] discretion to fairly determine the current support obligation and the contribution left available for other children.”  Id., subd. 5f(1)-(4).

            The guidelines are merely a “rebuttable presumption” to be used in all cases “when establishing or modifying child support.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i) (2002).  An obligor may rebut that presumption and request a deviation from the guidelines based on the needs of subsequent children.  See Becker County Hum. Servs. v. Peppel, 493 N.W.2d 573, 576-77 (Minn. App. 1992) (reversing district court’s setting of child support at guidelines amount and remanding for findings on downward deviation, where evidence established that obligor ran deficit every month and lacked ability to pay, given her necessary expenses and limited income); Scearcy v. Mercado, 410 N.W.2d 43, 46 (Minn. App. 1987) (reversing district court’s setting of child support where court failed to consider needs of subsequent child, particularly where total needs of parents and child “are apt to equal or exceed their resources”).

            Our review of the record here leads us to conclude that Crocker has successfully rebutted the presumption.  The district court calculated Crocker’s net monthly income at $3,134, a finding that he does not challenge on appeal.  But the court failed to adequately consider or make findings regarding his and his current family’s needs and other resources.  Crocker’s current household consists of his three subsequent children, his second wife, and her child.  Crocker estimated that his monthly expenses for his household total $4,788.  While this amount may include expenses not properly considered when determining Crocker’s child support obligation here, these figures strongly suggest that Crocker lacks the ability to pay $783.50 per month in child support that was ordered by the district court. 

            We therefore conclude that the district court abused its discretion when it mechanically applied the guidelines and refused to consider whether deviation is appropriate.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(c) (2002) (“[i]n addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration [certain enumerated] factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines,” including “all earnings, income, and resources of the parents”), subd. 5(i) (“If the court does not deviate from the guidelines, the court shall make written findings concerning the amount of the obligor’s income used as the basis for the guidelines calculation and any other significant evidentiary factors affecting the determination of child support.”).  On remand, the district court is directed to consider the needs of Crocker’s subsequent children under Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5f.

            Reversed and remanded.

 



[1]  This case does not fall under either of the other two sentences of Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5f (2002) that are quoted above.  While the second sentence prohibits an obligor from seeking a modification to decrease child support based on the fact that he or she has more children, Crocker is not requesting a reduction in his current child support obligation of $105 per month.  Nor is this a modification proceeding; rather, it is a proceeding to set child support following entry of a temporary order under Minn. Stat. § 257.62, subd. 5 (1990), even though that temporary order has been in effect for 12 years.  And while the third sentence mandates consideration of subsequent children when an obligee seeks a modification to increase child support, again, this case does not present a request to modify child support.