This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).

 

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A05-174

 

Nancy A. Mignone, petitioner,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Sean G. Bouta,

Appellant.

 

Filed December 13, 2005

Affirmed in part and remanded

Willis, Judge

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. PA 50187

 

 

Anne Heimkes Tuttle, Tuttle & Bergeson, 1275 Ramsey Street, Suite 600, Shakopee, MN  55379 (for respondent)

 

R. Daniel Rasmus, Christensen & Laue, P.A., 5101 Vernon Avenue South, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN  55436 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Randall, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WILLIS, Judge

            Appellant challenges the district court’s affirmance of a child-support magistrate’s order setting appellant’s past and prospective child-support obligations.  Because the district court’s findings support its determination of appellant’s prospective obligation for support but do not support its determination of appellant’s obligation for past child support, we affirm in part and remand.

FACTS

            In 1997, appellant Sean Bouta and respondent Nancy Mignone had a child.  Two days after the child’s birth, Bouta and Mignone executed a recognition of parentage, and their relationship ended soon after.  There is no order in the record awarding physical or legal custody of the child to either parent or to a third party.

According to Bouta, he and his parents, and Mignone and her parents agreed to raise the child collectively.  Bouta claims that after the child’s birth, he and his parents provided the majority of the physical care of and assumed the majority of the financial responsibility for the child until September 2001, when he and Mignone agreed that they would share equally the physical care of and the expenses associated with the child.  Bouta claims that since this agreement, he has paid half of the child’s expenses, including health-care costs, four years of pre-school and one year of kindergarten at a private school, and daycare costs.

According to Mignone, the child resides primarily with her and visits Bouta every Friday evening to Sunday evening or Monday morning.  Mignone agrees that she and Bouta share the cost of the child’s private-school tuition and that Bouta has paid some medical and other expenses of the child. 

At a time when Mignone and Bouta were simultaneously unable to provide health insurance, Mignone requested and received state-assisted health insurance for the child, resulting in an assignment to the state of her rights to medical support.  The county subsequently commenced an action to establish child support, medical support, and child-care support. 

After an evidentiary hearing, a child-support magistrate (CSM) issued an order that does not specify the custodian of the child but calculates Bouta’s obligations for past and prospective child support at the guidelines amounts, indicating that the CSM assumed that Mignone has had and would continue to have sole physical custody of the child.  Bouta sought review of the CSM’s support order by the district court, arguing that the order does not reflect the fact that the parties equally divided time with the child and shared joint physical custody.  Bouta did not, however, provide the district court with a transcript of the hearing before the CSM.  The district court affirmed the CSM, and Bouta appeals.

D E C I S I O N

A CSM’s ruling that is affirmed by a district court becomes the district court’s ruling.  Kilpatrick v. Kilpatrick, 673 N.W.2d 528, 530 n.2 (Minn. App. 2004).  A district court has broad discretion to address child-support questions.  Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 347 (Minn. 2002); Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).  But a district court abuses its discretion when it sets support in a manner that is against logic and the facts on record or misapplies the law.  Rutten, 347 N.W.2d at 50.  Because there is no transcript of the proceeding before the CSM, our review is limited “to whether the district court’s conclusions of law are supported by its findings of fact.”  In re Bender, 671 N.W.2d 602, 605 (Minn. App. 2003).

When there is a recognition of parentage, an action may be brought to establish a child-support obligation, including an obligation for support for the two years immediately preceding the commencement of the action.  Minn. Stat. § 257.75, subd. 3(1) (2004).  The child-support guidelines in Minn. Stat. § 518.551 (2004) are rebuttably presumed to be applicable “in all cases when establishing or modifying child support.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i) (2004).  Whether physical custody is sole or joint determines “whether the presumptively appropriate child support obligation is calculated by a straightforward application of the child support guidelines for sole physical custody, or by applying the [guidelines according to the] Hortis/Valento formula for joint physical custody.”  Maschoff v. Leiding, 696 N.W.2d 834, 840 (Minn. App. 2005). 

Here, because the parties executed a recognition of parentage and because there is no order awarding custody of the child, Mignone is, and since the child’s birth has been, the child’s sole physical and legal custodian as a matter of law.  See Minn. Stat. § 257.75, subd. 3.  Therefore, the district court correctly determined that the “presumptively appropriate” obligation for past support is the one arrived at from a straightforward application of the guidelines. 

In applying the guidelines, however, the district court failed to make findings that support its determination of Bouta’s obligation for past support.  Specifically, the district court states both that the parties agree that Bouta “is providing direct care to the child from Friday evenings to Sunday evenings or Monday morning” and that this degree of care “is not more than ordinary visitation and is not a basis for a downward deviation from the child support guidelines.”  (Emphasis added.)  The district court then set Bouta’s prospective support obligation and his obligation for past support at the guidelines amount.  Bouta argues that in doing so, the district court did not sufficiently consider the amount of time that he cared for and cares for the child and that, therefore, the district court overstated both his past and prospective child-support obligations.

Because there is no transcript of the evidentiary hearing, we are precluded from reviewing the findings that support the district court’s support determinations.  Because the findings support the determination of Bouta’s prospective support obligation, we affirm that determination.  But because the finding regarding the amount of time that Bouta currently is caring for the child does not address the time that he cared for the child in the past, this finding does not support the district court’s determination of Bouta’s past-support obligation.  Similarly, the district court’s finding that Bouta’s payment for unspecified “items” and “school activities” did not exceed normal visitation costs does not address the amount of time that Bouta provided direct care to the child during the period that Bouta was found to have an obligation for past support.  Therefore, we remand to the district court to make additional findings to substantiate Bouta’s past-support obligation.

On remand, in addition to making findings of fact regarding the amount of time Bouta provided direct care to the child during the period that he was found to have an obligation for past support, the district court shall also determine whether Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3 (2004), is applicable to the calculation of Bouta’s obligation for past support.  When determining a support obligation, a district court

may conclude that an obligor has satisfied a child support obligation by providing a home, care, and support for the child while the child is living with the obligor, if the court finds that the child was integrated into the family of the obligor with the consent of the obligee and child support payments were not assigned to the public agency under section 256.741.

 

Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3.

            Bouta did not cite Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, to the district court.  Generally, appellate courts address only issues and theories presented to, and considered by, the district court, and pro se litigants are held to the same standards as counsel.  Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988); Heinsch v. Lot 27, Block 1 For’s Beach, 399 N.W.2d 107, 109 (Minn. App. 1987).  For several reasons, however, we conclude that Bouta did not waive the applicability of Minn. Stat § 518.57, subd. 3.  First, in the district court, Bouta requested the relief allowed by Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3.  He argued that, with Mignone’s permission, the child lived with him for substantial portions of each week and that the district court should, when setting his support obligations, consider his contributions to the care of the child when the child lived with him.  Second, a district court “has a judicial duty to ensure that a case is presented based on all applicable law” and must be “especially aware” of this duty when, as here, a party is pro se.  Christenson v. Argonaut Ins. Cos., 380 N.W.2d 515, 519 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Mar. 27, 1986).  Third, appellate courts have a similar duty to decide cases consistently with existing law, and that duty is not diminished by oversights of counsel or the district court.  State v. Hannuksela, 452 N.W.2d 668, 673 n.7 (Minn. 1990); Bock v. Bock, 506 N.W.2d 321, 323 n.1 (Minn. App. 1993) (applying Hannuksela in a child-support dispute; other aspects of Bock are currently codified at Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5f (2004)).  Therefore, we remand for the district court to consider the applicability of Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3.

            In remanding, we note that the legal prerequisite for applying Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, that “child support payments were not assigned to the public agency under section 256.741,” appears, at least on the limited record currently before this court, to be present.  It is undisputed that Mignone sought and obtained state-assisted health insurance for a portion of the period for which Bouta was found to owe past support.  An individual receiving state-assisted health insurance is considered to have assigned to the state all rights to medical support.  Minn. Stat. § 256.741, subd. 2(b) (2004).  Because there is no legal authority that supports a conclusion that, in exchange for her receipt of state-assisted health insurance, Mignone assigned or could assign to the state more than her rights to medical support, we conclude that Mignone assigned her rights only to medical support and that she retained her right to receive other support.  Cf. Maschoff, 696 N.W.2d at 839 (noting “child support” can have several components, including “medical support”).  Therefore, the legal prerequisite for applying Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, that requires that a support recipient not have assigned her right to receive support is satisfied here for support other than medical support.  We leave it to the district court to determine whether the factual prerequisites for applying Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, are present here.

            Because the district court’s findings support its determination of Bouta’s obligation for prospective support, we affirm that portion of the district court’s ruling.  But because the district court failed to make findings that support its determination of Bouta’s obligation for past support and because Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, is relevant to this proceeding and the record does not show that the district court considered its applicability, we remand for the district court to make additional findings and to determine whether Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, applies here.  If the statute does apply to Bouta’s obligation for past support, the district court must determine the extent to which Bouta’s care for the child satisfied all or part of his duty of support and adjust the determination of Bouta’s obligation for past support accordingly.  On remand, the district court may, in its discretion, reopen the record. 

            Affirmed in part and remanded.