This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Matter of:
Filed July 5, 2006
Ramsey County District Court
File No. F8-01-51109
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Melissa Rossow, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 415, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102 (for plaintiff)
Michael R. Paul, Cundy & Paul, L.L.C., 1125 Wells Fargo Plaza, 7900 Xerxes Avenue South, Bloomington, Minnesota 55431 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this child-support-modification dispute, appellant mother argues that the district court abused its discretion by applying the law-of-the-case doctrine and denying the county’s motion to modify respondent father’s child-support obligation. Because the district court correctly precluded relitigation of the support question, we affirm.
Appellant Marcia Hagen and respondent Jose Galeano have two minor children. The parties entered a “parenting plan” under Minn. Stat. § 518.1705 (2002) which addressed the care, custody, and control of the children, but did not address child support. Based on the plan, the district court awarded the parties joint legal custody and awarded appellant sole physical custody, with the children primarily living with respondent each summer. Also, despite the award to appellant of sole physical custody, respondent moved to have support set under the Hortis/Valento formula or, in the alternative, for his support obligation to be set below the guideline amount. In an August 2003 order, a child-support magistrate, using the Hortis/Valento formula, set appellant’s and respondent’s child-support obligations at $81 per month and $427 per month, respectively, and ordered respondent to make a $346 net monthly support payment to appellant. The order lacked findings explaining this support obligation and the order was not appealed.
In March 2005,
Respondent sought district court review
of the June 2005 order, arguing that application of the Hortis/Valento formula was appropriate because, while the parties
agreed to a parenting plan, they designated appellant as sole physical
custodian only because the designation was required by the parenting-plan
statute. Respondent also argued that
In a September 2005 order, the
district court noted that
D E C I S I O N
orders may be modified upon a showing of substantially changed circumstances making
the terms of the existing support order unreasonable and unfair.
A district court has broad
discretion in modifying support, and its decision will not be altered on appeal
absent an abuse of that discretion. Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 347 (
Here, because the core of Ramsey
County’s motion to increase respondent’s support obligation is Ramsey County’s argument
that the Hortis/Valento formula
should not have been used in the 2003 order, the district court was correct in
ruling that Ramsey County’s current motion is an improper collateral attack on
the 2003 order. See Loo v. Loo, 520 N.W.2d 740, 743–44
(Minn. 1994) (noting “an adjudication on the merits of an issue is conclusive,
and [the issue] should not be relitigated” despite an inapplicability, “in a
technical sense[,]” of res judicata, collateral estoppel, and law of the case);
see also Nussbaumer v. Fetrow, 556 N.W.2d 595, 599 (Minn. App. 1996)
(stating Minnesota does not permit collateral attack of facially valid judgment
and that judgments alleged to be merely erroneous or founded on
nonjurisdictional defects are “not subject to attack”), review denied (Minn. Feb. 26, 1997). Because review of this record overwhelmingly
supports the district court’s thorough and conscientious analysis that the
current motion is a collateral attack on the 2003 order, the district court was
well within its discretion when it declined to allow relitigation of the
propriety of the 2003 order’s use of the Horits/Valento
formula. See AFSCME Council 96 v.
Arrowhead Reg’l Corr. Bd., 356 N.W.2d 295, 299 (Minn. 1984) (stating collateral
estoppel and res judicata are not rigidly applied and “[b]oth rules are
qualified or rejected when their application would contravene an overriding
public policy” (quoting Tipler v. E. I.
duPont deNemours &
While we affirm the district court, we note that our holding does not preclude a modification of support that is based on a satisfaction of Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2.
 Under the Hortis/Valento
formula, “separate support obligations are set for each parent, but only for
the periods of time that the other parent has physical custody of the children,
and a single net payment is determined by offsetting the two obligations
against each other.” Bender v. Bender, 671 N.W.2d 602, 608
(Minn. App. 2003); see
 Where one party has sole physical custody, the
presumptively correct support obligation is the obligation calculated under the
 The record shows that the magistrate’s June 2005 order and a number of the submissions in this matter do not explicitly distinguish between the 2003 order’s setting of respondent’s monthly support obligation at $427, and the 2003 order’s setting of respondent’s monthly net payment at $346 after the offset of appellant’s $81 support obligation. Because of the offset in the Hortis/Valento formula, a net payment figure will be lower than the obligation. Given the statutory presumptions regarding the existence of a substantial change in circumstances and whether a change renders an existing support obligation unreasonable and unfair, distinguishing between the net payment and the actual obligation is important. Failure to distinguish between the figures resulting in use of the lower net payment figure as the basis for addressing the existence of the presumptions allowed by Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(b)(1), will result in making it artificially easy to generate a presumption suggesting an increase in support and artificially difficult to generate a presumption suggesting a decrease in support. Thus, for purposes of clarity and fairness in support proceedings, we encourage parties and decision makers in child-support matters to clearly distinguish support obligations and net payments in their submissions and rulings.
 The district court also noted, correctly, that the 2003 order was defective: Despite the fact that the parenting plan awarded appellant sole physical custody of the children, the 2003 order set the parties’ support obligations by applying the Hortis/Valento formula without making the findings under Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i), that are required to set a support obligation at an amount deviating from the guideline amount. See Rogers, 622 N.W.2d at 816 (stating “[a] deviation [from the guideline support amount] is permitted only if the court determines it is needed to serve the best interests of the children and is supported by the findings required by Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i)”).