This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Mary Helen Massman, petitioner,
Daniel William Massman,
Filed January 12, 1999
Reversed and remanded
Washington County District Court
File No. F2931792
Douglas Johnson, Washington County Attorney, Patrick C. Courtney, Assistant
County Attorney, Washington County Government Center, 14949 62nd Street North,
Stillwater, MN 55082; and
Ralph W. Heuschele, 10315 Thomas Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55431 (for
Timothy D. Lees, Lawrence D. Olson & Associates, P.A., 2860 Snelling Avenue
North, St. Paul, MN 55113 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Short, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Randall,
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
After Daniel William Massman experienced a decrease of income due to
a career change, he requested a reduction in his child support obligation. An
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) granted his request, but ordered an automatic
reinstatement of his prior obligation in 12 months. On appeal, Massman argues
the ALJ abused its discretion in: (1) providing an automatic future increase
based on imputed income; and (2) failing to deduct health care and
hospitalization insurance premiums from his net monthly income or correcting a
typographical error when calculating his future support obligation. We reverse
D E C I S I O N
Subject to certain limitations, an ALJ has the same power as a trial court in
modifying child support obligations. Minn. Stat. § 518.5511, subd. 1(e)
(1998). An ALJ is afforded broad discretion in child support cases, and we must
affirm an administrative decision absent a clear abuse of that discretion.
See id., subd. 4(j) (1998) (providing decisions of ALJ are
appealable in same manner as decisions of trial court); Lee v.
Lee, 459 N.W.2d 365, 368-69 (Minn. App. 1990) (applying trial court
standard of review to ALJ's order), review denied (Minn. Oct. 18,
1990); Reck v. Reck, 346 N.W.2d 675, 677 (Minn. App. 1984)
(citing Peterson v. Peterson, 304 Minn. 578, 580, 231 N.W.2d 85,
86 (1975), and noting trial courts are afforded broad discretion in child
support cases), review denied (Minn. Apr. 25, 1984).
Massman argues the ALJ abused its discretion by ordering an automatic
increase of his child support obligation in 12 months. We agree. The ALJ did
not find Massman was voluntarily unemployed or underemployed or reported
negligible income. See Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5b(d)
(1998) (allowing income to be imputed if obligor is voluntarily unemployed or
underemployed); Roatch v. Puera, 534 N.W.2d 560, 565 (Minn. App.
1995) (holding child support may be based on earning capacity if self-employed
person reports negligible income). In addition, the ALJ's decision appears to
ignore emancipation of Massman's children. See Minn. Stat.
§ 518.64, subd. 4a(b) (1998) (stating support obligations that do not
designate specific amounts per child continue until last child is emancipated
unless otherwise ordered by court); Erickson v. Erickson, 409
N.W.2d 898, 901 (Minn. App. 1987) (holding child support order that fails to
prorate obligation as each child becomes emancipated deviates from child
support guidelines and increases future obligations based on speculative
findings). Given these facts and the absence of explanatory findings, we
conclude the ALJ abused its discretion in ordering an automatic increase of
Massman's child support obligation within 12 months.
Massman also argues the ALJ abused its discretion in calculating his
current child support obligation by failing to: (1) deduct health care and
hospitalization insurance premiums in establishing current net income; and (2)
correct a typographical error that increased his monthly child support
obligation by $29. See Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b)
(1998) (defining obligor's net income as total monthly income minus deductions,
including cost of dependent health insurance coverage, cost of individual or
group health/hospitalization coverage, or amount for actual medical expenses).
Despite Massman's request for amended findings, the ALJ declined to address
these issues. See Useman v. Minneapolis St. Ry. Co., 198 Minn.
79, 85, 268 N.W. 866, 869 (1936) (holding typographical error, without
prejudice, was harmless and did not require reversal). After a review of the
record, we conclude the combination of these errors is not harmless, and remand
to the ALJ for recalculation and proceedings consistent with this opinion.
See, e.g., Bartl v. Bartl, 497 N.W.2d 295, 299 (Minn. App. 1993)
(remanding for correction of errors in calculating obligor's net income that
were not harmless).
Reversed and remanded.