This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A04-482

 

 

In re

Andrew Lye Hock Tan, petitioner,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Tammy Larie Seeman,

f/k/a Tammy Larie Tan,

Appellant.

 

Filed October 12, 2004

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Lansing, Judge

 

Dakota County District Court

File No. F6-96-12614

 

 

Mary B. Rannells, Mardell Law Office, 15000 Garrett Avenue, Apple Valley, MN 55124 (for respondent)

 

Robert E. Lieske, Esq., Wagner, Falconer & Judd, Ltd., 3500 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402-2113† (for appellant)

 

††††††††††† Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Harten, Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N

LANSING, Judge

††††††††††† The district court denied Tammy Seemanís motion to require Andrew Tan to pay guidelines child support and to allow her to claim all of their minor children as dependents for tax purposes.† Seeman appeals the denial of her motions and also appeals the district courtís grant of Tanís motions to modify the parenting-time schedule and to require educational testing for the children, who are home-schooled.† Because the district court did not make findings on the childrenís best interests for the substantial parenting-time changes and because the child-support findings are inadequate to establish the basis for a deviation, we reverse and remand on those issues.† We affirm the remaining determinations.

F A C T S

††††††††††† Andrew Tan and Tammy Seemanís 1996 dissolution judgment incorporated a marital-termination agreement and provided for joint legal and physical custody of their four minor children.† The judgment also provided that Tan would pay Seeman guidelines child support of $773 a month.

††††††††††† In June 1998 the district court modified the custody provision by granting Seeman physical custody of their two daughters and Tan physical custody of their two sons.† The court also modified child support.† As a result of the custody modification, and taking into account Tanís overall financial circumstances, the court allowed Tan a downward deviation from the guidelines to $300 a month on Tanís stated net monthly income of $1,898.† The district court found that Seeman was a full-time parent with no employment and did not require that she pay support to Tan.† Tanís court-ordered parenting time included four weeks during the summer.† In a September 1999 order, the court reaffirmed Tanís four-week summer parenting time.

††††††††††† In April 2002 Tan was charged with fifth-degree assault of their older son; he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct.† After the assault the older son† moved from Tanís home.† He turned eighteen in December 2003.† Their younger son moved to Seemanís home in July 2002.†

††††††††††† In May 2003 Seeman brought a motion to reinstate guidelines child support,† retroactive to the time the two sons moved from Tanís home, and to allow her to take the tax dependency exemption for all of the children.† Tan and Seeman stipulated that Seeman would have sole physical custody of the minor children.† But Tan contested the child-support increase and the income-tax exemptions.† He moved for a downward deviation from guidelines support, an increase in parenting time over holidays and during the summer, an independent educational evaluation for their home-schooled children, and allocation of all of the tax dependency exemptions.

††††††††††† In January 2004, the district court modified Tanís support obligation, ordering a downward deviation to $500 a month for the three remaining minor children.† In addressing the deviation, the court found that Tan had a net monthly income of $2,665.83, had encountered health problems that required medication and monitoring by a physician, and that Seemanís disposable income had increased.† The court expanded Tanís parenting time to include Chinese New Year, Fatherís Day weekend, and eight weeks in two non-consecutive blocks in the summer.† The court suspended Tanís child-support obligation during the eight-week summer parenting time.† The court also ordered independent educational testing for the children and denied all other motions.†

††††††††††† Seeman appeals, arguing that the district court (1) erred by failing to make sufficient findings on the downward support deviation and eight-week support suspension; (2) abused its discretion by failing to make sufficient findings in modifying the parenting-time schedule; (3) abused its discretion by failing to allow her to take all of the tax dependency exemptions; (4) erred by failing to make any child-support increase retroactive; and (5) abused its discretion by ordering independent educational testing for their home-schooled children.††

D E C I S I O N

I

††††††††††† The district court has broad discretion in determining modifications to child-support orders.† Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 347 (Minn. 2002).† That discretion, however, must be exercised within the limits set by the legislature.† Id. (citing Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 864 (Minn. 1986)).† The child-support guidelines establish a rebuttable presumption that a child-support obligor owes a fixed percent of the obligorís income based on that income and the number of children to be supported.† Minn. Stat. ß 518.551, subds. 5(b), (i) (2002).†

To deviate from the guidelines support calculations, a district court must make written findings stating the reasons for the deviation and how the deviation would serve the best interests of the child.† Minn. Stat. ß 518.551, subd. 5(i).† These findings must specifically consider the earnings, income, and resources of the parents, as well as the childrenís financial needs and the other statutorily mandated factors listed in Minn. Stat. ß 518.551, subd. 5(c).†

††††††††††† District court findings assure that the relevant statutory factors have been addressed, satisfy the litigants that their case was fairly resolved, and permit reasoned appellate review.† Rosenfeld† v. Rosenfeld, 311 Minn. 76, 82, 249 N.W.2d 168, 171 (1976); see also Erickson v. Erickson, 385 N.W.2d 301, 303 (Minn. 1986) (emphasizing the importance of findings of fact to demonstrate the district court actually considered all relevant factors).† Particularized findings on child-support issues provide the parties and their children the benefits of a careful, complete analysis of support obligations.† Bormann v. Bormann, 644 N.W.2d 478, 482 (Minn. App. 2002).†

††††††††††† Because Tan stipulated to a change in physical custody for the partiesí remaining minor son, a substantial change of circumstances occurred that could trigger a modification of support.† See Minn. Stat. ß 518.64, subd. 2 (2002) (stating terms of child-support order may be modified on showing of substantial change of circumstances making terms of original order unreasonable and unfair); see also Buntje v. Buntje, 511 N.W.2d 479, 481 (Minn. App. 1994) (noting change in physical custody as change of circumstances warranting modification of child support).†

In ordering a downward deviation from the guidelines, the district court did not make findings on the childrenís needs or Seemanís expenses and resources.† The courtís summary statement that ďthe childrenís needs are being metĒ with the reduced level of support and the additional $150 that Tan was paying Seeman for the partiesí younger son does not satisfy the statutory requirement of a particularized examination that would support a downward deviation.† See Minn. Stat. ß 518.551, subd. 5(i) (providing that if the court deviates from guidelines, written findings must state guidelines support, criteria listed in Minn. Stat. ß 518.551, subd. 5(c) and how deviation supports childrenís best interests).

††††††††††† The district court found that Tanís support obligation should be suspended during his eight-week summer parenting time.† Generally, the court must make findings indicating how the childís best interests will be served by reducing child-support obligations during the obligorís parenting time.† Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993).† These findings should include consideration of the fixed budgetary items, which include mortgage and insurance, and the fluctuating expenses, which would include groceries and day-to-day expenditures.† Id. at 586, n.1.† The district courtís brief statement that it was appropriate to suspend Tanís support obligation during his summer parenting time does not fulfill the necessary requirements of particularity.†

We note that the district court adopted Tanís proposed findings and conclusions almost verbatim.† Although not reversible error per se, the ďwholesale adoption of one partyís findings and conclusions raises the question of whether the trial court independently evaluated each partyís testimony and evidence.Ē† Id. at 590.† When, as here, the findings are limited, indications of independent evaluation are particularly important.†

The findings are insufficient to justify a deviation from the applicable guidelines.† We therefore reverse and remand for the district court to make additional findings and, if required by the findings, modified conclusions on the order for child support and the suspension during summer parenting time.

II

Minnesota law requires the district court to allow parenting time that ďwill enable the child and the [noncustodial] parent to maintain a child-to-parent relationship that will be in the best interests of the child.Ē† Minn. Stat. ß 518.175, subd. 1(a) (2002).† In considering a motion to modify parenting time, the court shall order modification if a change in parenting time would serve the best interests of the child.† Minn. Stat. ß 518.175, subd. 5.† We review the district courtís decision on parenting-time issues under an abuse-of-discretion standard.† Olson v. Olson, 534 N.W. 2d 547, 550 (Minn. 1995).†

Seeman challenges the district courtís order increasing Tanís holiday and summer parenting time.† The district court made no findings on how the best interests of the children would be served by the change in schedules, particularly in the change that doubles the four weeks in summer to order summer parenting time of eight weeks.† We recognize that Tan and Seeman live some distance from each other and that scheduling parenting-time transitions may be difficult.† But in ordering a significant modification of parenting time, the district court has an obligation to make findings in support of its decision, recognizing both the continuity of the parent-child relationship and the reality of the current family situation.† See Anderson v. Archer, 510 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1993) (distinguishing between significant and insubstantial modifications to parenting time and necessary findings on childís best interests); see also Funari v. Funari, 388 N.W.2d 751, 753 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding that insubstantial changes do not require written findings on best interests).

Because the changes in summer parenting time are substantial, we reverse and remand for findings on the best interests of the children.† We affirm, however, that part of the order allocating Tan parenting time for Fatherís Day weekend and the Chinese New Year, which is insubstantial, has been allowed in previous court orders, and is within the district courtís discretion.

III

††††††††††† The district court maintains discretion in allocating tax dependency exemptions.† Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999).† Seeman argues that the district court abused its discretion by failing to allocate all of the tax dependency exemptions to her when she became physical custodian of all of the minor children.†

Although the custodial parent presumptively receives the right to claim the dependent children as deductions for tax purposes, the Internal Revenue Code does not preclude state district courts from allocating the dependency exemption to a noncustodial parent.† Rogers v. Rogers, 622 N.W.2d 813, 823 (Minn. 2001).† Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a modification from the provision in the marital-dissolution judgment, which allowed Tan to take the dependency exemption for one child and Seeman to take the remaining dependency exemptions.††

IV

Seeman argues that the district court erred by declining to order child support retroactive to 2002, when the partiesí sons moved from Tanís home.† With certain specified exceptions, a modification of child support may be made retroactive only from the date of service of the notice of motion to modify support.† Minn. Stat. ß 518.64, subd. 2(d) (2002).† The district court expressly made the date of the child-support-modification order retroactive to May 2003, when Seeman filed her motion for a change in custody.†

Seemanís argument that she is entitled to retroactive support is based on Minn. Stat. ß 518.57 (2002), which provides retroactivity for a support obligor when the obligor satisfies a support obligation by providing for a childís care and support by integrating the child into the household.† See Minn. Stat. ß 518.57, subd. 3 (stating that, if court finds that a child is integrated into the family of the obligor with the consent of the obligee, court may conclude that the obligor has satisfied a support obligation by providing a home, care, and support for the child).

For child-support purposes, an ďobligorĒ is defined as ďa person obligated to pay maintenance or support.Ē† Minn. Stat. ß 518.54, subd. 8 (2002).† The 1998 court order stated directly that because Seeman was legitimately unemployed, she did not owe child support.† Therefore, she was adjudicated not to be a support obligor.† We also note that the record does not indicate that the two boys lived with Seeman the full period for which she seeks retroactive support.† The district court did not err in declining to apply Minn. Stat. ß 518.57 to impose retroactive support.

V

††††††††††† Seemanís final argument is that the district court abused its discretion by granting Tanís request for independent educational testing for the children, who are home schooled.† A district court may resolve educational issues, on which joint legal custodians cannot agree consistently, with the best interests of the child.† See Novak v. Novak, 446 N.W.2d 422, 424 (Minn. App. 1989) (recognizing that district court can resolve, consistent with childrenís best interests, joint legal custodiansí disagreement about school choice), review denied (Minn. Dec. 1, 1989).†

Seeman claims that this issue was previously raised and decided in 1999 when the district court approved home schooling for the girls and ordered that Tan receive periodic updates on their educational progress.† But the courtís previous determination on Tanís access to educational information does not foreclose future modifications.† Tan and Seemanís younger son, in addition to the two daughters, is now home-schooled.† Tan has requested independent testing to assure that the childrenís progress continues to meet recognized educational standards.† This independent educational testing requirement is within the district courtís discretion and not foreclosed by the previous order.

††††††††††† Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.