may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Kristie Lynn Schulz, petitioner,
Dennis James Schulz,
Reversed and remanded
Polk County District Court
File No. F3-89-32
Richard J. Linnerooth, 921 Second Avenue South, Fargo, ND 58103 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
Appellant Dennis James Schulz moved to reduce his child support obligation, claiming he was involuntarily terminated from his seasonal job with Transystems, Inc., that he has been unable to find other suitable employment, and that his only income now is from his farming operation. Respondent Kristie Lynn Schulz opposed his motion.
Following a hearing, the trial court denied appellant's motion, concluding either that (1) appellant's tax returns reflect mere "paper losses" and seriously distort his actual farm income, or (2) appellant is choosing to self-limit his income by voluntarily continuing to engage in a losing farm operation. Because the trial court failed to make sufficient findings to support these conclusions, and because appellant has met his burden of proving that there has been a substantial change in circumstances making the prior award unreasonable and unfair, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
An obligor cannot rely upon a voluntary termination of employment to justify a decrease in his support obligation and must make a reasonable effort to meet a child support obligation. Giesner v. Giesner, 319 N.W.2d 718, 719-20 (Minn. 1982); Goff v. Goff, 388 N.W.2d 28, 30 (Minn. App. 1986); see also Rohrman v. Moore, 423 N.W.2d 717, 720 (Minn. App. 1988); Hedburg v. Hedburg, 412 N.W.2d 43, 47 (Minn. App. 1987) (motion to reduce child support obligation denied if obligor unjustifiably self-limits income); Beede v. Law, 400 N.W.2d 831, 835 (Minn. App. 1987); Resch v. Resch, 381 N.W.2d 460, 462 (Minn. App. 1986) (support award properly based on father's potential earnings as machinist, when father deliberately chose not to seek work as machinist); Juelfs v. Juelfs, 359 N.W.2d 667, 670 (Minn. App. 1984) (father's termination of city employment in order to pursue his tack business lacked good faith, because father well aware tack business inadequate to meet his needs and obligations). If, however, an obligor has nominal income because of involuntary underemployment or involvement in an unproductive self-employment enterprise, his child support obligation may be reduced or suspended. See Giesner, 319 N.W.2d at 719-20 (if career change made in good faith, child and former spouse must share in hardships as they would have had family remained together); Weinand v. Weinand, 286 Minn. 303, 306, 175 N.W.2d 506, 508 (1970); Hopp v. Hopp, 279 Minn. 170, 176, 156 N.W.2d 212, 217 (1968).
In this case, the trial court concluded that appellant chose to self-limit his income by voluntarily continuing to engage in a losing farm operation. The trial court, however, made no findings to support this conclusion. Nor is such a conclusion supported by the record; appellant's farming operation is not a losing operation and no evidence suggests that appellant's actions lacked good faith.
The trial court also concluded that appellant's tax returns reflect mere "paper losses" and seriously distort his actual farm income. Again, the trial court made no findings to support this conclusion and our examination of the record suggests otherwise. The record establishes that appellant's farming operation is not a losing business, but that it annually reports a gain, albeit not a large gain. In addition, some of the deductions claimed on appellant's tax return may or may not be mere paper losses; for example, appellant claimed a section 179 deduction for $17,500, which may or may not be excess depreciation. See Freking v. Freking, 479 N.W.2d 736, 740 (Minn. App. 1992) (upholding trial court's disallowance of accelerated portion of depreciation deduction based on party's testimony that actual depreciation was about half of accelerated depreciation).
In conclusion, appellant has provided uncontroverted evidence that (1) he involuntarily lost his second seasonal job; (2) he was able to work that second job solely because of its hours and location; (3) the second job was intended to supplement his income from his primary, legitimate, long-term occupation of farming; (4) during the time when he was working that second job, he was also required to keep up on his farming responsibilities and often put in more than 40 hours per week between the two jobs; and (5) he has been unable to find a similar seasonal or second job with the requisite hours and location and he does not believe that he will be able to find such a job. Cf. Larson v. Larson, 408 N.W.2d 612, 616-17 (Minn. App. 1987) (evidence supported conclusion that obligor, who was involved in losing farm operation and supplemented income with construction work, was not voluntarily reducing income to avoid child support obligation or acting in less than good faith by continuing to farm), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 1987). Under these unique facts, we cannot affirm the trial court's decision, which essentially requires appellant to obtain another second job to replace the one he involuntarily lost. Rather, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying appellant's modification motion without attempting to calculate his current income.
We therefore reverse the trial court's denial of appellant's motion to modify and remand for further proceedings. On remand, the trial court must make specific and detailed findings on appellant's current income. The court may consider available resources, and is not limited to appellant's bottom line taxable income. See, e.g., Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989) (debts incurred for necessary generation of income may be considered when determining income available for payment of child support); Stevens County Social Serv. Dep't v. Banken, 403 N.W.2d 693, 697 (Minn. App. 1987) (debt and reasonable business expenses of self-employed obligor may be considered when calculating income for child support purposes); Martin v. Martin, 364 N.W.2d 475, 478 (Minn. App. 1985) (overlap between business expenses and obligor's basic living needs may be considered in determining child support). The court must then determine the appropriate amount of support based on appellant's current income. Minn. Stat. §§ 518.551, subd. 5 (child support guidelines); 518.64, subd. 2(a) (modification statute).
Reversed and remanded.