Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Thomas Robert Seiler, petitioner,
Lynn Elaine Seiler, respondent,
File No. F1942314
Robert J. Lawton, 411 Main St., Suite 202, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Rebecca L. Wilson, Wilkerson, Hegna & Walsten, P.L.L.P., 1100 Northland Plaza, 3800 West 80th St., Bloomington, MN 55431-4426 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's decision to increase respondent's visitation rights and to decrease respondent's child support obligation. Because we see no abuse of the district court's discretion, we affirm.
In 1997, appellant moved for permission to move with M.R.S. to Kansas in order to remarry. Respondent did not contest the removal, but he asked the court for extended visitation, including the entire summer, and a reduction in child support. The court granted both appellant's motion for permission to remove and respondent's motion for extended visitation and reduced child support.
Respondent was granted visitation for one week a month from September through May, visitation for 14 weeks during the summer, and visitation on alternate holidays. Appellant was given one week and alternate weekends with M.R.S. during the summer. The court also reduced respondent's child support obligation to $250 per month for the entire year, based on the increase in visitation transportation costs due to appellant's move to Kansas. The $267 reduction was roughly equal to the cost of a one-way trip from Kansas to Minnesota.
1. Child Support Reduction
Appellant argues that the district court erred when it reduced respondent's child support obligation. Modification of child support is within the district court's discretion and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Hennessy v. Stelton, 302 Minn. 550, 551, 224 N.W.2d 926, 927 (1974).
When removal is permitted, the court * * * may make appropriate adjustments in child support to spread the cost of visitation in an equitable manner, provided that such adjustments are not against the best interests of the child.
Auge v. Auge, 334 N.W.2d 393, 400 (Minn. 1983). Courts may apportion any new transportation expenses equitably "without rigidly applying statutes normally governing changed circumstances." Ballard v. Wold, 486 N.W.2d 161, 163 (Minn. App. 1992).
Although the court both ordered that the parties share transportation costs and reduced respondent's child support by the cost of a one-way trip to Kansas, we conclude this to be within the court's wide discretion. We note that among the many options available to the court were options that may have been more economically disadvantageous to appellant, including possibly assigning all transportation costs to her and maintaining child support at the pre-move level. The district court's decision was not inequitable seen in the context of granting appellant permission to move M.R.S. 270 miles to Kansas and was not an abuse of discretion.
As a secondary matter, appellant contends that the district court erred when it based a decision regarding child support on respondent's current paystub instead of requiring his 1996 income tax returns. Appellant argues that she was deprived of any information regarding outside sources of income or income from the previous year's tax return. We see no error.
To calculate a party's child support obligation "[t]he court must determine current net income." Thomas v. Thomas, 407 N.W.2d 124, 127 (Minn. App. 1987). Thomas remanded calculation of a party's child support obligation because the district court relied on the party's income tax return from the previous year instead of utilizing the income figures available for the current year. Id. Thomas indicates the court's preference for the document that provides the most current information. See id. Here, this was the most recent paystub.
Appellant does not cite any case law that requires a party to produce both the previous year's income tax returns and a current paystub. In fact, during the hearing on this issue, appellant's counsel stated:
If I could get his paystub and 1996 tax return, I would assume his paystub would have it. It has year-to-date; I only need the most current paystub.
This statement indicates that appellant's counsel knew that a paystub contained the necessary information regarding respondent's current income. The court did not abuse its discretion by not requiring respondent to produce his 1996 income tax return.
2. Modification of Visitation
Appellant argues that the district court erred in expanding respondent's visitation rights to include 14 weeks during the summer, one week a month during the rest of the year, and alternate holidays and birthdays. The district court has extensive discretion in deciding visitation questions and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Manthei v. Manthei, 268 N.W.2d 45, 46 (Minn. 1978).
Removal of a child from one jurisdiction to another necessarily requires a modification of the terms of visitation. Danielson v. Danielson, 393 N.W.2d 405, 407 (Minn. App. 1986).
When removal is permitted, the court shall make such modifications of visitation as are reasonable and necessary to maintain a good relationship between the noncustodial parent and child * * *.
Auge, 334 N.W.2d at 400. The arrangements must constitute a "reasonable alternative" to the prior visitation schedule. Geiger v. Geiger, 470 N.W.2d 704, 708 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Aug. 1, 1991).
In Geiger, the court upheld a modified visitation schedule of school-age children in a removal case that was altered from two full weekends a month, one weekend from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, two days a week for three hours a day, shared holidays, and alternate weeks in the summer, to a schedule of two-thirds of the summer, two-thirds of Christmas break, alternate Thanksgiving breaks, two-thirds of spring break, and other times as the parties mutually agreed. Id. at 706, 708. Geiger is factually similar to this case.
In addition to evidence of the specified visitation schedule in Minnesota, respondent introduced evidence showing that the amount of time he had with M.R.S. from January to October 1996 was much greater than the time allotted by the dissolution decree. The court may have considered this evidence and sought to preserve the amount of visitation actually occurring. While the visitation schedule fashioned by the district court is liberal, there is commendable provision for appellant and the child to be together for one week and alternate weekends during the 14-week summer visitation with respondent.
Appellant argues that the district court erred when it failed to explain why modification of visitation was in the child's best interests as required by Minn. Stat. § 518.175, subd. 5 (1996). See Moravick v. Moravick, 461 N.W.2d 408, 409 (Minn. App. 1990) (remanding the trial court's visitation modification because the trial court failed to make particularized findings of fact regarding the child's best interests). We disagree. This is a removal case: it "necessarily requires a modification of visitation" that is "not inconsistent with a child's best interests," but is reasonable and necessary. Danielson, 393 N.W.2d at 407; Auge, 334 N.W.2d at 400. We believe the court created a visitation schedule that was reasonable and necessary and not inconsistent with M.R.S.'s best interests; a particularized finding of those best interests was not required.
Considering the extensive amount of time that respondent spent with M.R.S. while the child resided in Minnesota, the district court did not abuse its discretion by modifying the visitation schedule.