This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Cheryl Eben, f/k/a Cheryl Brouillette,


Michael James Brouillette,



Filed December 11, 2007


Randall, Judge


Dakota County District Court

File No. FX-89-12645


Cheryl Eben, 1490 Meadow Lane, Chaska, MN 55318 (pro se respondent)


Michael James Brouillette, P.O. Box 111004, St. Paul, MN 55111 (pro se appellant)


            Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant-father seeks review of the district court’s decision to uphold a Child Support Magistrate’s (CSM) denial of modification of the amount of child support arrears owed to respondent-mother.  Appellant argues the district court abused its discretion (1) in upholding the refusal to discharge all of his remaining arrears; (2) in refusing to examine his new evidence; and (3) by refusing to apply the equitable doctrine of laches to preclude further collection of arrears by respondent.  We affirm.


In January 1985, pro se appellant Michael James Brouillette and pro se respondent Cheryl Eben, f/k/a Cheryl Brouillette, were married.  In September of that same year, they had a son together.  The parties’ marriage was dissolved in November 1989.  At the time of the dissolution, it was agreed that respondent would retain physical custody of their child.  The issue of child support was reserved for trial and appellant was ordered to make child-support payments of $250 a month including a $2,500 judgment for past support.  Appellant failed to meet these obligations and respondent obtained a judgment in March 1994, for arrears in the amount of $5,500 that had accrued through December 31, 1993.[1]

            Further dispute over appellant’s arrears ensued in early 2004.  An April 1, 2004 hearing was held before a Child Support Magistrate (CSM) regarding the amount of arrears owed by appellant.  The CSM’s resulting judgment and decree concluded that appellant owed respondent $21,250 in arrears.  During this 2004 dispute, appellant claimed he had documentation proving additional child-support payments that respondent refused to acknowledge, but was unable to produce this documentation at the hearing.  Appellant claims that after this April 2004 judgment, he discovered documentation of further child-support payments, but was unable to pursue the matter because he was subsequently incarcerated for an offense unrelated to his child-support arrears. 

            In June 2006, appellant filed a motion to modify the amount of arrears he owed respondent.  Dakota County child-support records showed appellant owed roughly $15,651 in arrears at the time.  The hearing before the CSM was held July 25, 2006.  The CSM subsequently issued a judgment and decree reducing the amount of arrears appellant owed by $6,250 based on documentation he provided at the hearing and admissions of certain payments by respondent that she had previously denied.  But the CSM’s judgment rejected appellant’s proffer of a carbon copy of a check as proof of a further $2,000 payment toward his arrears.[2]  Subsequently, appellant procured evidence in the form of banking records that this $2,000 check was actually tendered to respondent and that she signed and cashed it several days later.

           On September 1, 2006, appellant sought review of the CSM’s judgment in district court pursuant to Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 376.01.  On October 5, 2006 the district court affirmed the CSM’s judgment in a one-sentence order.  This appeal follows.       


            A district court reviews a CSM’s decision de novo.  Blonigen v. Blonigen, 621 N.W.2d 276, 280 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Mar. 13, 2001); see Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 377.09, subd. 2(b) (stating the district court must make an independent review of any findings or provisions of the CSM’s decision).  When a district court affirms a CSM’s ruling, the CSM’s ruling becomes the ruling of the district courtKilpatrick v. Kilpatrick, 673 N.W.2d 528, 530 n.2 (Minn. App. 2004).  A district court has broad discretion to address child-support questions and this discretion is abused only when its ruling is against logic and the facts on record.    Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).  Thus, the CSM’s decision, once adopted by the district court, is reviewed by this court as the district court’s decision under an abuse of discretion standard.  Id.  We, therefore, determine here whether the district court set support in a manner that is against logic and the facts on record.  Id.


            Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to discharge all of his remaining arrears.  We disagree.  At the hearing, the district court had an affidavit from a Dakota County child-support officer stating that appellant owed approximately $15,651 in arrears.  The only evidence before the district court that the appellant owed no arrears at all was appellant’s testimony.  Appellant claimed he did not owe respondent “a penny,” and that respondent has repeatedly lied when claiming not to have received certain child-support payments.  

The district court, after weighing the conflicting testimony, ruled appellant owed arrears.  Appellate courts defer to the district court’s credibility determinations.  Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988); see Varner v. Varner, 400 N.W.2d 117, 121 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating that a fact-finder “is not required to accept even uncontradicted testimony if the surrounding facts and circumstances afford reasonable grounds for doubting its credibility.”); cf. Straus v. Straus, 254 Minn. 234, 235, 94 N.W.2d 679, 680 (1959) (stating appellate courts defer to the district court’s resolution of factual issues presented by conflicting affidavits).  The record supports the district court’s use of its discretionary power.


            Appellant’s next claim of error is that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to examine his new evidence.  Appellant claims the district court should have considered his newly obtained banking records corroborating the carbon copy check the CSM rejected as evidence of a $2,000 child-support payment. 

            “When bringing or responding to . . . a motion for review . . . the parties shall not submit any new evidence unless the child support magistrate or district court judge, upon written or oral notice to all parties, requests additional evidence.”  Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 377.09, subd. 4.  Here, the banking statements appellant sought to submit to the district court were not part of the record before the CSM and there is no evidence in the record that the district court requested any additional information when reviewing the CSM’s decision.  The district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to consider appellant’s banking records.  


            Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to apply the equitable doctrine of laches to preclude further collection of arrears by respondent.  A district court’s decision to apply, or not apply, the doctrine of laches is reviewed under the abuse-of-discretion standard.  In re Marriage of Opp, 516 N.W.2d 193, 196 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Aug. 24, 1994).  The Minnesota Supreme Court has specifically stated that “equitable defenses are not available in an action based on accrued payments due under [a] decree of divorce.”  Ryan v. Ryan, 300 Minn. 244, 251 n.2, 219 N.W.2d 912, 916 n.2 (1974)“A lack of diligence in collection . . . cannot defeat [an obligor’s] continuing support obligation, since the focus of a support obligation is on the needs of the child, not the diligence of the custodial parent.”  Opp, 516 N.W.2d at 197 (alteration in original) (quotation omitted).  The notion that the doctrine of laches does not apply to collection of child support is long-standing.  See, e.g., S.G.K. v. K.S.K., 374 N.W.2d 525, 528 (Minn. App. 1985) (nine-year delay in seeking arrears); Benedict v. Benedict, 361 N.W.2d 429, 432 (Minn. App. 1985) (seven-year delay in seeking arrears). 

            Here, appellant has a history of making child support payments to respondent informally and irregularly.  It is unclear from the record precisely which monthly child-support payments between January 1994 and October 2003[3] appellant failed to make.  Even assuming some of appellant’s arrears are ten or more years overdue,[4] his argument that the equitable doctrine of laches precludes recovery of those arrears is not persuasive. The doctrine of laches does not apply to child support.  The district court correctly refused to apply laches to wipe out appellant’s back support payments here.





[1] This judgment has since expired. The only arrears at issue in this case are child support owed from January 1, 1994 forward. 

[2] This hearing was the first time appellant produced this carbon copy of the check.  The check was dated December 14, 1999, made out to Cheryl Eben, and “May thru Dec support” was written in the memo portion of the check.  The CSM rejected this as evidence of a child-support payment because respondent testified she did not recall receiving this check and appellant did not produce the cancelled check or any other documentation from the bank that it had in fact been tendered to, and accepted by, respondent.


[3]Appellant’s last required child-support payment was for October 2003, the month his child with respondent reached 18 years of age.


[4] The longest overdue arrears potential owed by appellant are from 1994 because, as noted above, respondent received a March 1994 judgment for all arrears owed by appellant up to December 31, 1993.  We note that this appeal does not involve or address Minn. Stat. §§ 541.04, (2006), 548.09, (2006), or 548.091, (2006).