This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).






In re the Marriage of:

Jeffrey J. Pierson,






Janell H. Johnson,





Dakota County, intervenor,



Filed January 23, 2007

Reversed and remanded
Klaphake, Judge


Dakota County District Court

File No. F6-93-12064


Gary G. Liebmann, 501 E. Highway 13, Suite 114, Burnsville, MN  55337; and


Kevin J. Kolosky, 5640-41st Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN  55417 (for appellant)


Wayne A. Jagow, 350 West Burnsville Parkway, Suite 500, Burnsville, MN  55337 (for respondent Johnson)


James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Valisa L. McKinney, Assistant County Attorney, 1 Mendota Road West, Suite 220, West St. Paul, MN  55118 (for respondent Dakota County)


            Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Jeffrey Pierson challenges the district court’s adoption of a child support magistrate’s decision that determined respondent Janell Johnson owed child support arrears for the period from December 2002 to the date of the order, but that arrears were not proven for the period prior to December 2002.  Because the magistrate failed to make adequate findings to support its ultimate conclusions so as to allow this court to properly review the matter, we reverse and remand.


            A district court has broad discretion to make determinations regarding child support.  Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 347 (Minn. 2002).  This court reviews the district court’s decisions in such matters for an abuse of discretion.  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).  A district court abuses its discretion when it sets support in a manner that is against logic and the facts on record or when it misapplies the law.  Id.; Ver Kuilen v. Ver Kuilen, 578 N.W.2d 790, 792 (Minn. App. 1998).

            Appellant challenges the adequacy of the magistrate’s findings, insisting that those findings fail to support the magistrate’s ultimate conclusion that respondent owed no support for the period prior to December 2002.  Although numerous and detailed, the magistrate’s “findings” merely recite the parties’ claims and testimony, and fail to make affirmative statements of fact.  See Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989) (stating that district court may not merely recite parties’ claim, but must make its own findings).  While recitation of the parties’ testimony may assist a reviewing court to understand what was considered by the fact-finder, the magistrate’s recitations do not help us here because those recitations fail to fully explain the legal bases behind the ultimate decision reached by the magistrate.  We therefore reverse and remand.

            In so doing, we make several observations.  At best, the evidence establishes that during much of the period prior to December 2002, respondent made sporadic payments of $144 per month, not the $105 per week (or $454.97 per month) that was specified in the 1993 dissolution judgment and decree.  The evidence further establishes that there were periods of time during which one child was placed in a juvenile facility or resided with respondent.  The evidence finally establishes that respondent gave a computer, some furniture, and other items to appellant in lieu of child support.

            Extrajudicial modifications of child support are generally unenforceable; an obligee should obtain a judicial modification of a child support obligation and “extrajudicial” agreements between the parties may not relieve the obligor of the obligation to pay.  But see Tell v. Tell, 383 N.W.2d 678, 682 n.2 (Minn. 1986) (recognizing that private agreements between parents with respect to living arrangements should be encouraged).  In addition, the giving of gifts in-kind does not eliminate or satisfy a party’s support obligation.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.68 (2004).  Finally, “[f]orgiveness of unpaid, child-support arrears that have accrued before the party has brought a motion to modify child support is a retroactive modification governed by Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d),” which provides that a modification may be made retroactive only back to the date of service of the motion.  Long v. Creighton, 670 N.W.2d 621, 627 (Minn. App. 2003).

            Nevertheless, exceptions to these general rules exist.  For instance, a modification may be made retroactive to a period prior to service of the motion if the court finds that the party seeking modification was under some type of disability, misrepresentation, or fraud, or was a recipient of public assistance, that the child support order was entered by default, or that the party seeking modification was institutionalized or incarcerated.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d)(1)-(4).  And a support obligation may be deemed satisfied if the children actually reside with the obligor and the obligor has provided the children with a home, support, and care during that time period.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3 (2004) (providing that court may conclude that obligor has satisfied child support obligation by providing home, care, and support for child if child was integrated into obligor’s family with obligee’s consent).

            These exceptions give courts a “practical way to prevent inequity.”  Karypis v. Karypis, 458 N.W.2d 129, 131 (Minn. App. 1990) (noting that court does not “lose authority to do equity in family law unless there is a pure question of law”), review denied (Minn. Sept. 14, 1990); superseded by statute, Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3, as recognized in Nelsen v. Thompson, 2004 WL 1327446, at *1 (Minn. App. June 15, 2004); see Gully v. Gully, 599 N.W.2d 814, 821-25 (Minn. 1999) (allowing retroactive modification under Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d), where obligor materially misrepresented his financial situation when he failed to provide required documentation and thus left obligee unaware that his financial situation had dramatically improved).  We recognize that Minnesota courts have specifically stated that “‘equitable defenses are not available in an action based on accrued payments due under [a] decree of divorce,’” particularly accrued child support payments.  Jacobson v. Jacobson, 363 N.W.2d 342, 346 (Minn. App. 1985) (quoting Ryan v. Ryan, 300 Minn. 244, 251 n.2, 219 N.W.2d 912, 916 n.2 (1974)).  We further recognize that a long line of cases hold that laches cannot preclude collection of child support arrearages.  See In re Marriage of Opp, 516 N.W.2d 193, 196-97 (Minn. App. 1994) (recognizing Minnesota’s strong policy against applying laches to preclude collection of child support arrearages), review denied (Minn. Aug. 24, 1994).  Nevertheless, equity remains available in an appropriate case if adequate findings are made.  Cf. Gully, 599 N.W.2d at 825 (discussing laches and doctrine of unclean hands as possible defenses to modification motions); Hicks v. Hicks, 533 N.W.2d 885, 886 (Minn. App. 1995) (decrease in support could not be made retroactive to date two years earlier when obligor first served motion because he was deemed to have abandoned motion by failing to pursue it further, conducting no discovery, presenting no evidence, and proceedings were dismissed).   

            We therefore reverse and remand this matter for additional findings regarding the amount of arrears, if any, due prior to December 2002.  We caution that because actions to recover unpaid child support payments are subject to a ten-year statute of limitations, any judgment for arrears is retroactively valid only ten years from September 20, 2005, which is the date that appellant served his motion.  See Dent v. Casaga, 296 Minn. 292, 297, 208 N.W.2d 734, 737 (1973) (“each installment of support payments shall be treated independently and separately and recovery allowed only for those payments which accrue within ten years from the date of the commencement of the action”).

            Reversed and remanded.