This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






In re the Matter of:

Ramsey County,



Marcia Hagen,





Jose Galeano,



Filed July 5, 2006


Hudson, Judge


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)


Marcia Hagen, 7665 Wedgewood Court, Maple Grove, Minnesota 55311 (pro se appellant)


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[1] or, in the alternative, for his support obligation to be set below the guideline amount.[2]  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, Ramsey County moved to increase respondent’s support obligation, arguing that the 2003 order should not have set support under the Hortis/Valento formula.  In June 2005, the magistrate ruled that use of the Hortis/Valento formula in the 2003 order was improper because appellant had sole physical custody of the children.  Because the children spend the bulk of the summer in respondent’s care, the magistrate determined respondent’s guideline support obligation for the 10 nonsummer months to be $722 per month, prorated that obligation over 12 months, and set respondent’s monthly support obligation at $602.  In doing so, the magistrate stated the existing support order was unreasonable and unfair under Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(b)(1) (2004).

            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 Ramsey County and appellant were precluded from arguing that application of Hortis/Valento was improper because there was no appeal of the 2003 order, meaning that application of the Hortis/Valento formula is now law of the case.

            In a September 2005 order, the district court noted that Ramsey County’s sole argument to modify support was that the 2003 order should not have applied the Hortis/Valento formula, and ruled that the failure to appeal that order precluded an attack on that order in the current proceeding.  The district court then granted respondent’s motion for review, denied Ramsey County’s motion to increase respondent’s child-support obligation, vacated the magistrate’s June 2005 order, and remanded for consistent findings.  This appeal follows.


            Child-support orders may be modified upon a showing of substantially changed circumstances making the terms of the existing support order unreasonable and unfair.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2 (2004).  If applying the child-support guidelines to the current circumstances of the parties produces a guideline support obligation that is at least 20% and $50 per month different than the obligation in the current order, it is presumed that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, and there is an additional, rebuttable presumption that the existing support order is unreasonable and unfair.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(b)(1).[3]  And when, as here, support is initially set below the guideline amount, the change in circumstances necessary to justify increasing support to the guideline amount is limited.  See Murray v. Murray, 425 N.W.2d 315, 317 (Minn. App. 1988); Compart v. Compart, 417 N.W.2d 658, 662 (Minn. App. 1988). 

            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 (Minn. 2002).  A district court abuses its discretion if it resolves the matter in a manner that is against logic and the facts on the record.  Id.

            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.[4] 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 & Co., 443 F.2d 125, 128 (6th Cir. 1971)); cf. Loo, 520 N.W.2d at 744 n.1 (noting law of the case “is a discretionary doctrine developed by the appellate courts to effectuate the finality of appellate decisions[,]” that it “ordinarily applies where an appellate court has ruled on a legal issue and has remanded the case to the lower court[,]” and that it “is not normally applied by a trial court to its own prior decisions”).

            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.


[1] 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 Rogers v. Rogers, 622 N.W.2d 813, 815–16 (Minn. 2001) (discussing Hortis/Valento formula).

[2] Where one party has sole physical custody, the presumptively correct support obligation is the obligation calculated under the child-support guidelines.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i) (2004).  Where parties share joint physical custody, the presumptively correct child-support obligations for each parent, and the presumptively correct net payment for the party having the greater obligation, are the obligations and the payment calculated under the Hortis/Valento formula.  Schlichting v. Paulus, 632 N.W.2d 790, 793 (Minn. App. 2001).

[3] 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.

[4] 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)”).