This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Crow Wing County Social Services,



Nicole I. Buranen,





Randy M. Buranen,



Filed August 14, 2007

Reversed and remanded

Dietzen, Judge


Crow Wing County District Court

File No. F5-06-2148


Patricia A. Trask, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, 14091 Baxter Drive, Suite 116, Baxter, MN 56425 (for appellant)


Randy M. Buranen, 5973 Sandstone Road, Baxter, MN 56425 (pro se respondent)


            Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




            Appellant challenges the child support magistrate’s order determining child support, arguing that respondent’s income was greater than $16,200 per year.  We reverse and remand. 


Appellant Nicole Buranen and respondent Randy Buranen were married in August 2001 and are the parents of two minor children, M.M.B. and K.P.B.  Appellant is unemployed and a recipient of public assistance.  Respondent is a self-employed auto mechanic and does business as Gray Wolf Transmission and Auto Service (Gray Wolf Transmission). 

In August 2005, the district court granted appellant’s petition for an order of protection and temporary custody of the children.  Appellant then served respondent with a petition for dissolution of marriage.  In July 2006, Crow Wing County filed a complaint against respondent under Minn. Stat. § 256.87 (2004) for not providing adequate support for his two minor children.  In August 2006, a child support magistrate (CSM) conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine respondent’s obligation to pay child support. 

Respondent, who has over twenty years of experience as an automobile mechanic, testified that he purchased Gray Wolf Transmission from his mother in January 2006, but that the business was not going very well and was “pretty terrible.”  Respondent testified that his 2005 taxable income was $16,200, even though he works “long hours at times” and is usually at the shop seven days a week.  But respondent stated on his refinancing application that his income was $3,610 per month. He justified his answer on the ground that, “I could have made that much.  I just simply did not.”  For his expenses, respondent indicated that he owed his mother $50,000 for the business, and that he had credit card debt of $12,000 and other debt of $16,000.   He stated that he was “down to his last dollar” and “about to be evicted.” 

Following the hearing, the CSM issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment.  The CSM ordered respondent to pay $301 per month in ongoing child support, and $100 per month for ongoing medical support.  Respondent was also ordered to pay $3,794 to the state and to appellant[1] for past assistance and past child support and $1,400 to the state for past medical support.  This appeal followed. 


            Appellant challenges the CSM determination of child support.  A party may appeal a CSM’s decision to this court without first moving for district court review.  Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 378.01.  On appeal from a final order by a CSM, our review is limited to determining whether the evidence supports the findings of fact and whether the findings support the conclusions of law and judgment.[2]  County of Anoka ex rel. Hassan v. Roba, 690 N.W.2d 322, 324 (Minn. App. 2004).  This court will reverse a CSM’s order regarding child support modification only if we are convinced that the CSM abused its broad discretion.  Ludwigson v. Ludwigson, 642 N.W.2d 441, 445 (Minn. App. 2002).  The determination of a child support obligor’s net income for purposes of child support is a question of fact and will not be reversed unless clearly erroneous.  Id. at 446; Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. 

Under the law applicable to this case, child-support obligations are based on the obligor’s net monthly income.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b) (2004).[3] Net income is total monthly income less deductions—federal and state income taxes, social security, reasonable pension deductions, union dues, dependent health insurance coverage costs, individual or group health coverage costs, and other child support or maintenance that is currently being paid.  Id. The obligation to pay child support is premised on the obligor’s ability to pay.  Schneider v. Schneider, 473 N.W.2d 329, 332 (Minn. App. 1991).

Appellant argues that the CSM erred in not finding that respondent was capable of earning more than $16,200 per year.  Essentially, appellant argues that respondent was voluntarily underemployed.  The CSM found that in 2005 respondent earned $16,200 as an employee of Gray Wolf Transmission, and had the ability to earn the same amount in the future.  After deductions, the CSM found that respondent’s net monthly income was $1,001.72.  The CSM determined that respondent’s monthly child-support obligation was $301.[4] 

Determination of earning capacity is appropriate when an obligor is self-employed or has improperly reduced his income.  Beede v. Law, 400 N.W.2d 831, 835 (Minn. App. 1987); see also Roatch v. Puera, 534 N.W.2d 560, 565 (Minn. App. 1995) (stating that in calculating child support, if self-employed obligor supports himself, yet reports negligible income, the CSM may base income on earning capacity).  Minnesota law provides that:

If the court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed . . ., support shall be calculated based on a determination of imputed income.  A parent is not considered voluntarily unemployed or underemployed upon a showing by the parent that the unemployment or underemployment:  (1) is temporary and will ultimately lead to an increase in income; or (2) represents a bona fide career change that outweighs the adverse effect of that parent’s diminished income on the child.  Imputed income means the estimated earning ability of a parent based on the parent’s prior earnings history, education, and job skills, and on availability of jobs within the community for an individual with the parent’s qualifications. 


Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5b(d) (2004). 

Respondent’s status changed in 2006 from employee to owner of the business.   But the CSM’s order does not consider respondent’s change in status as owner and its impact on his ability to earn income, or whether respondent unjustifiably self-limited his earnings or his earning capacity.  While witness credibility is the exclusive province of the CSM, there are not adequate findings for appellate review.  Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 472 (Minn. App. 2000); see also Tuthill v. Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d 230, 232 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that the absence of detailed factual findings by the trial court makes appellate review difficult).  And the CSM’s order makes no attempt to analyze the income and expenses of his self-employed business. 

Consequently, we are unable to conduct appellate review, and must remand for reconsideration of the child-support factors under Minn. Stat. § 518.551 (2004).  See Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 353-54 (Minn. 2002) (underscoring the critical importance of having findings of fact that demonstrate the district court took all relevant factors into consideration); see also Davis v. Davis, 631 N.W.2d 822, 828 (Minn. App. 2001) (holding that when there is no evidence in the record to support the district court’s finding of obligor’s net monthly income, the decision has no reasonable basis in fact, and must be remanded for reconsideration of appropriate factors). 

We reverse and remand for the district court to determine respondent’s net income, particularly regarding the income and expenses related to his business.  On remand, the CSM may, but is not required to, conduct an evidentiary hearing or otherwise reopen the record. 

            Reversed and remanded.  

[1] The CSM’s order is unclear regarding how much is owed by respondent to each party.

[2] The parties do not argue, and we do not address, what impact, if any, the Minnesota Supreme Court’s discussion of the scope of review in Alpha Real Estate Co. of Rochester v. Delta Dental Plan of Minn., 664 N.W.2d 303 (Minn. 2003), might have in this case.

[3]Generally, courts apply the law in effect when they make their decision.  Interstate Power Co., Inc. v. Nobles County Bd. of Comm’rs, 617 N.W.2d 566, 575 (Minn. 2000).  Here, application of the child-support laws applicable to cases filed after January 1, 2007 would violate Interstate PowerSee 2006 Minn. Laws ch. 280, § 44, at 1145 (reciting effective date of amended child-support laws).  Therefore, we apply the prior law.

[4] 30% of a monthly income of $1,000 or more.  See Minn. Stat.§ 518.551, subd. 5(b) (establishing applicable percentage of income payable towards child support).