This opinion will be unpublished and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
In re the Marriage of:
Elizabeth Ann Tadlock, petitioner,
Thomas Raymond Tadlock,
Filed September 7, 2004
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DC 201 984
Michael J. Froelich, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Thomas Tadlock, 6011 Virginia Avenue North, New Hope, MN 55428 (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
On appeal in this child-support dispute, appellant argues that the district court (1) failed to conduct adequate proceedings when it considered respondent’s oral motion to modify child support; (2) violated Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4a(c) (2002), by allowing an automatic reduction in respondent’s support obligation for the emancipation of a child where the support obligation was not in a specific amount per child; (3) violated Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d), by allowing the modification to be retroactive without satisfaction of the statutory prerequisites for retroactive support modification; (4) misread the parties’ dissolution judgment to allow application of the Hortis/Valento child-support formula; and (5) understated appellant’s expenses. We affirm.
In 1996, the marriage of appellant Elizabeth Tadlock and respondent Thomas Tadlock was dissolved by stipulated decree. The parties had three children from the marriage. The oldest child was born on February 24, 1983. The decree awarded the parties joint legal and physical custody of their minor children. The parties agreed that the children would live with appellant during the school year and with respondent during the summer months. The decree also stated that respondent was to pay $690.88 per month for child support based on the applicable child-support guidelines. At the time of the decree, this amount equaled 35% of respondent’s monthly income of $1,973.97. Respondent’s child-support obligation did not include a Hortis/Valento offset.
On February 5, 2003, during a hearing regarding a property-settlement dispute between the parties, respondent orally requested that his child-support obligation be modified, based on the emancipation of the parties’ oldest child. Both parties appeared pro se. The parties agreed to modify the child-support obligation, but did not agree to a monetary amount or date on which the modification would take effect. No financial information was provided to the district court on the issue of the child-support modification at this time. Respondent did not file motion papers or request review of the child-support award.
Without a hearing, the district court issued an order on March 28, 2003. This order was followed by an amended order dated May 19, 2003. The amended order reduced respondent’s child-support obligation to $592.19, or 30% of respondent’s monthly income at the time of the 1996 dissolution decree. The reduction was made retroactive to July 1, 2001. According to the district court, the retroactive modification was consistent with the parties’ decree.
Appellant’s attorney later contacted the chambers of the district court judge and requested a hearing pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02. In a letter dated November 17, 2003, the district court denied appellant’s request for a hearing, but directed the parties to submit their current income information in writing. The parties agreed that the child-support obligation should be modified in accordance with current income information, rather than the 1996 income information. The parties submitted information as of February 2003. Respondent’s net monthly income was $2,834.62, and appellant’s net monthly income was $2,800. Appellant asserted that her current monthly expenses had increased since the time of the decree and now totaled $3,774, as compared to $2,570.90. The district court found that the increase in appellant’s expenses far surpassed inflation rates. The court also determined that crediting appellant’s claimed expenses would jeopardize respondent’s ability to support the children in the summer. The district court issued a subsequent order further reducing respondent’s net child-support obligation to $427.77 per month as of March 1, 2003. Respondent’s support obligation was based on the parties’ current income information and the Hortis/Valento formula. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
In determining child-support modifications, district courts enjoy broad discretion. In re Ramsey County ex. rel. Pierce County, Wis., 645 N.W.2d 747, 750 (Minn. App. 2002). An appellate court is free to reverse or remand a district court determination in a child-support-modification proceeding only when the district court has abused its discretion. Id. An abuse of discretion occurs when a district court reaches a “clearly erroneous conclusion that is against the logic and the facts on [the] record.” Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). A decision that is “arbitrary or unreasonable or without evidentiary support,” is an abuse of discretion. Smith v. Smith, 282 Minn. 190, 193, 163 N.W.2d 852, 856 (Minn. 1968).
1. Formal Proceedings
Appellant argues that the district court’s modification proceedings were inadequate because the court failed to (a) require respondent to file formal motion papers; (b) allow the parties to conduct discovery; and (c) conduct a formal hearing on respondent’s motion for modification. We disagree.
A. Motion Papers
A proper motion must be brought in writing unless it is made orally during a hearing. Minn. R. Civ. P. 7.02 (a) states that “[a]n application to the court for an order shall be by motion which, unless made during a hearing or trial, shall be in writing, shall state with particularity the grounds therefor[e], and shall set forth the relief or order sought.” (emphasis added). During a hearing regarding a property dispute between the parties, respondent made an oral request for modification based on the emancipation of the parties’ oldest child. Because the oral request was made during a hearing, the formality of bringing the motion by filing papers was unnecessary.
The district court enjoys broad discretion in issuing discovery orders. Shetka v. Kueppers, Kueppers, Von Feldt & Salmen, 454 N.W.2d 916, 921 (Minn. 1990). While discovery is sometimes needed, normally, the only requirement for a child-support-modification motion is that one party be able to show that a change in their financial circumstances has occurred. See Saturnini v. Saturnini, 260 Minn. 494, 496-98, 110 N.W.2d 480, 481-83 (Minn. 1961); Long v. Creighton, 670 N.W.2d 621, 626 (Minn. App. 2003). This means that motions to modify child support may be determined by the affidavits of the parties. Saturnini, 260 Minn. at 498, 110 N.W.2d at 483.
Appellant argues that the district court should have inquired further into the reasons that her expenses had increased. She argues that the court concluded that her expenses had not increased without having proper evidence before it. Appellant did not make a discovery request in this case. While no discovery occurred before the first order was issued and appellant’s request for a hearing was denied, the district court asked the parties to submit current financial information. The court gave both parties an opportunity to explain their financial obligations. Appellant submitted to the district court a list of appellant’s and her two minor children’s expenses. The district court had this information before it when it considered respondent’s motion. The court specifically commented on respondent’s ability to provide for the children given a higher child-support obligation, the rate of inflation, and appellant’s increased earnings in making its decision. After reviewing the record, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by not ordering discovery that appellant did not request.
District courts are not required to hold a hearing for motions to modify child support. Minn. Stat. § 518.64 subd. 2(f) (2002). It is within the discretion of the district court to decide whether to grant a hearing in child-support-modification cases. Long, 670 N.W.2d at 626. While hearings are normally considered proper when deciding a parent’s fitness in a custody dispute, most child-support-modification cases do not require a hearing unless the affidavits are overly inconsistent or the facts are so complex that cross-examination is required. Mathias v. Mathias, 365 N.W.2d 293, 297 (Minn. App. 1985). Nothing in appellant’s brief or the record suggests that this case involves overly inconsistent or complicated facts. We conclude that the district court had sufficient evidence to make a decision without a formal hearing.
2. Automatic Reduction
Appellant argues that the district court violated Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4a(c) (2002), by allowing an automatic reduction in respondent’s child-support obligation where the child-support obligation did not allocate a specific amount per child.
The district court modified respondent’s child-support obligation based on the emancipation of the parties’ oldest child. See Reynolds v. Reynolds, 498 N.W.2d 266, 273 (Minn. App. 1993) (concluding that emancipation justifies a modification of child support).
Appellant argues that because there was no specific amount assigned to each individual child, the district court could not reduce respondent’s child-support obligation based on the parties’ oldest child’s emancipation. But, Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4a(a), provides that “[u]nless a court order provides otherwise, a child-support obligation in a specific amount per child terminates automatically and without any action by the obligor to reduce, modify, or terminate the order upon the emancipation of the child as provided under section 518.54, subdivision 2.” (Emphasis added). The language of the statute regarding emancipation allows for parties to provide for a reduction in an obligor’s child-support obligation without a specific amount allocated to each individual child. In the 1996 dissolution decree, the parties specifically provided for a reduction in child support when their children became emancipated. The decree stated that:
[c]hild support shall continue at $690.88 per month, until the occurrence of one of the following events, whichever occurs first: (a) “[A] minor child attains the age of 18 years, or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last; provided, however, that support will not continue past the
According to the parties’ stipulated decree, respondent’s child-support obligation reduces when their children turn 18 or graduate from high school. Respondent’s obligation was set at $690.88 per month, based on 35% of his net monthly income of $1,973.97 at the time of the decree. The district court reduced respondent’s obligation to $592.19, which represents 30% of respondent’s income at the time of the decree in 1996. The court further reduced his obligation based on the parties’ current income information and child-support guidelines. The district court then applied the Hortis/Valento offset. Because the parties previously applied the guidelines amount in calculating child support, it was reasonable for the district court modify respondent’s support obligation accordingly. See Stieler v. Stieler, 244 Minn. 312, 320, 70 N.W.2d 127, 132 (1955) (where a judgment is ambiguous or indefinite in its terms, the district court has authority to clarify the language); Mikoda v. Mikoda, 413 N.W.2d 238, 242 (Minn. App. 1987) (district court’s construction of its own decree given “great weight” on appeal), review denied (Minn. Dec. 22, 1987). No specific amount was required for modification based on emancipation. We conclude the district court properly applied Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4a(c) (2002), when it reduced respondent’s child-support obligation due to the parties’ oldest child’s emancipation.
3. Retroactive Modification
Appellant also argues that the district court violated Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d) (2002), by retroactively reducing respondent’s obligation to July 1, 2001, without any findings to support the ruling. We disagree.
Generally, support awards can be modified retroactively to the date of service of the motion to modify. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d) (2002). But, there are exceptions that allow modifications to apply to earlier dates. Id. A motion can be made retroactive to a date before service of the motion to modify if the district court “express[ly] find[s]” that “the party seeking modification was precluded from serving a motion by reason of a significant physical or mental disability, a material misrepresentation of another party, or fraud upon the court and that the party seeking modification, when no longer precluded, promptly served a motion[.]” Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d)(1).
The district court ordered the first modification retroactive to July 1, 2001, based on the parties’ oldest child’s emancipation. The court reasoned, correctly, that the date was consistent with the parties’ stipulated decree. The district court also found that the parties later agreed at a subsequent hearing that respondent could adjust the child-support payments in light of their oldest child’s emancipation.
As stated before, the district court’s actions are consistent with the emancipation statue. See Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4a(a) (2002). While none of the four statutory exceptions was met, the decree expressly provides that child support will continue at the set amount until a minor child turns 18 or graduates from high school. See Bednarek v. Bednarek, 430 N.W.2d 9, 12 (Minn. App. 1988). In Bednarek, the stipulated dissolution decree stated, “[the obligor’s] child support obligation should continue ‘until both children shall attain the age of twenty-one (21), become self supporting, marry or die.’” 430 N.W.2d at 10. This court determined that the obligor’s child-support obligation “ceased when [the child] moved out of [obligee’s] home and started to receive AFDC and aid from the father of her child.” Id. at 12. This court concluded that:
The [district] court’s order terminating [the obligor’s] child support obligation as to [the emancipated child] was not a modification of the original child support order. It merely gave effect to the plain provision in the original order providing for termination of child support upon self-sufficiency of a minor. We find the [district] court properly terminated respondent’s obligation for child support as to the emancipated minor.
Like the stipulated dissolution decree in Bednarek, the decree in this case expressly provided for a reduction in child support when the parties children turn 18 years old or graduate from high school, “whichever occurs last.” Because the parties’ oldest child’s birthday was on February 24, 2001, the date of her graduation would apply. Accordingly, July 1st would be an appropriate date to retroactively apply the child-support modification, as child-support expenses would have decreased if she graduated from high school in June. See Minn. Stat. § 518.64 subd. 2(d)(4) (stating that a substantial reduction in the amount of support due may be effected as of the date that the expenses decreased). The district court worked hard to give effect to the parties’ original dissolution decree regarding the terms of child support. The court made a fair and equitable decision to retroactively modify respondent’s child-support obligation because the parties specifically agreed to allow for this reduction in the dissolution decree. We find Search Term Begin Wethe court properly applied respondent’s reduction in child support retroactively to July 1, 2001.
3. Hortis/Valento Application
Appellant argues that the district court erred when it “misread” the parties’ dissolution judgment to allow for application of the Hortis/Valento child-support formula. The Hortis/Valento formula “should be used in all joint physical [custody] cases.” Tweeton v. Tweeton, 560 N.W.2d 746, 748 (Minn. App. 1997) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. May 28, 1997). The formula requires a parent to pay the child-support amount indicated by the guidelines only during the periods of time that the other parent has custody of the children. Id. at 747; Valento v. Valento, 385 N.W.2d 860, 862 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. June 30, 1986); Hortis v. Hortis, 367 N.W.2d 633, 636 (Minn. App. 1985). “The court then applies an offset so that the net paid by the parent with the higher earnings is the difference between the reduced guidelines amounts.” Tweeton, 560 N.W.2d at 748 (citing Hortis, 367 N.W.2d at 636 (offsetting the smaller obligation of one parent against larger obligation of other parent)).
The district court awarded the parties joint physical custody of their children. The parties agreed that the children would live with the appellant during the school year and with respondent during the summer months. The district court found that respondent agreed to pay guideline support of $690 per month, or 35% of his net income of $1,973.97, without a Hortis/Valento offset. The district court determined that respondent “did not agree to waive the Hortis/Valento offset until the children [were] emancipated.” After reducing respondent’s obligation based on the parties’ oldest child’s emancipation, the district court further reduced his obligation to $427.77 per month. The court found respondent’s net monthly income to be $2,834.62, and determined that his obligation would be $850.38 without any offset. Because the children live with respondent during the summer months, the district court prorated $850.38 over twelve months, which equaled $637.78 per month. The district court then stated that:
[Appellant] alleges that as an employee of the Postal Service she receives 26 paychecks per year. Her average net paycheck is $1,320.91, which works out to $2,862 per month. This number has to be reduced to $2,800 per month to reflect the same 8% retirement contribution afforded to [respondent] verses the 10% reflected on her pay stubs. [Appellant’s] guidelines child support obligation during the three summer months amounts to $840 per month. Prorated over twelve months this equals $210 per month. Netting the two obligations results in a $427.77 obligation for [respondent].
argues that the district court never allowed the parties to address the issue
of whether respondent waived the Hortis/Valento application, so it could
not have made this determination. As
stated before, the district court’s findings of fact are not set
aside unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. The record contains no evidence suggesting that respondent waived application of the Hortis/Valento formula. Because the court awarded the parties joint physical custody, application of the formula is appropriate in this case. We conclude that the record supports the district court’s decision to apply the Hortis/Valento formula to respondent’s child-support obligation.
4. Appellant’s Expenses
Finally, appellant argues that the district court understated appellant’s monthly expenses. Appellant claimed that her monthly expenses had increased from $2,570.90 per month in 1996 to $3,774 per month. The district court found that appellant would have a total of $3,227.77 in “cash flow,” which included her net monthly income of $2,800 and $427.77 in child support. The district court found that appellant’s expenses constituted “an increase that far eclipses any inflation” and that crediting appellant’s claimed increase in monthly expenses would jeopardize respondent’s ability to support the children during the summer.
Appellant argues that the growth of the parties’ children accounted for the increase in monthly expenses. As stated before, the district court asked the parties to submit their current financial information. Appellant submitted monthly expenses for her and the two minor children to the court, and the district court was in the best position to determine if her submitted expenses were credible. See In re D.L., 486 N.W.2d 375, 380 (Minn. 1992) (stating that “the [district] court retains broad discretion because of its opportunity to observe the parties and hear the witnesses”). The record supports the district court’s determinations as to the reasonableness of both parties’ necessary monthly expenses.
 The other circumstances under which support obligations can be made retroactive to a date before service of the motion are (1) receipt of certain public assistance by the party seeking modification; (2) that the order sought to be modified was entered by default; and (3) the party seeking modification was institutionalized or incarcerated. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d)(2)-(4).