This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




In Re the Marriage of:

Katherine Mary Lakin, petitioner,



Martin Ray Lakin,


Dakota County Support and Collections,


Filed October 6, 1998


Holtan, Judge*

Dakota County District Court

File No. F488008807

Shelly D. Rohr, Wolf & Rohr, P.A., 960 Norwest Tower, 55 East Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and

Cynthia M. McIntosh, McIntosh Law Office, 220 Sibley Street, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondent)

Patricia A. O'Gorman, Patricia A. O'Gorman, P.A., 8750 90th Street South, #207, Cottage Grove, MN 55016 (for appellant)

James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, Vance C. Grannis III, Assistant County Attorney, Dakota County Judicial Center, 1560 West Highway 55, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondent Dakota County Support and Collections)

Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.



Appellant Martin Lakin challenges an administrative law judge's (ALJ's) award of child support to respondent Katherine Lakin for their handicapped adult son. Appellant argues his support obligation terminated when the child was emancipated under Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2 (1996), because the district court had not previously extended its jurisdiction over the issue of support. We affirm.


The judgment dissolving the parents' marriage awarded respondent custody of the parties' two minor children, the older of whom is a disabled son. Since then, the parties have been in court several times. Each time, either the court or the parents or both recognized son's special needs. When son reached age 19 in 1996, he was still in school, and the parents stipulated that appellant would pay support for both children until one "attain[ed] the age of majority as defined in Minn. Stat. sec. 518.54, subd. 2, becomes emancipated, dies, or until further order."

Son reached age 20 in February 1997 and in September, appellant moved to terminate support for son. The ALJ denied the motion, ruling (a) son "is completely dependent" on others for his care and "is incapable of self-care or self-support at the present time[;]" (b) son's disability meant he was still a "child" under Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2 (1996), because he was "an individual who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support[;]" and (c) appellant's motion to terminate support for son should be denied.


Child support may be modified if the moving party shows a substantial change in circumstances rendering the existing award unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (Supp. 1997). The traditional family law standard of review applies on appeal of an ALJ's rulings in a family law case. Lee v. Lee, 459 N.W.2d 365, 368-69 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Oct. 18, 1990); see Minn. Stat. § 518.5511, subd. 4(j) (Supp. 1997) (ALJ's decision "is appealable to the court of appeals in the same manner as a decision of the district court"); but see Holmberg v. Holmberg, 578 N.W.2d 817 (Minn. App. 1998) (ruling 1996 version of administrative support statute unconstitutional as violating constitutional prohibition on separation of powers), review granted (Minn. Aug. 18, 1998). Under the traditional family law standard of review, whether to modify child support is discretionary with the district court. Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 864 (Minn. 1986). When setting support, the district court has "broad discretion" and will not be reversed absent a clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts on record. Id. Also, findings of fact are not set aside unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.

Absent an order to the contrary, support "terminates automatically" when a child is emancipated under Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2 (1996). Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4 a(a) (1996). Under Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2, a "child" is a person who is under age 18 or "who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support." The statute does not set a maximum age for the persons deemed children because they are incapable of self-support, therefore the statute does not preclude requiring support for such a person.

Appellant argues that under McCarthy v. McCarthy, 301 Minn. 270, 222 N.W.2d 331 (1974), his support obligation terminated when son reached age 20 because the district court had not previously extended its jurisdiction over support beyond the child's 20th birthday. In McCarthy, the supreme court, in passing, noted it was troubled by the mother's apparent inability to raise a disabled child and mentioned a probable need for support to continue beyond the child's reaching the age of majority. Id. at 273, 222 N.W.2d at 333-34. Without attempting to resolve the problem, it stated:

[I]t is sufficient to merely apprise the parties and the trial court of the situation to facilitate reevaluation of the circumstances on or before the date upon which [the child] attains majority.

Id. at 274-75, 222 N.W.2d at 334 (footnote omitted). This McCarthy dicta does not automatically deprive the district court of jurisdiction over support when a child reaches the age of majority. See Borich v. Borich, 450 N.W.2d 645, 647-48 (Minn. App. 1990) (remanding issue of support for person over age 18 for findings on whether person could support himself (citing McCarthy, 301 Minn. at 274, 222 N.W.2d at 334)); Higgins on Behalf of Higgins v. J.C. Penney Cas. Ins. Co., 388 N.W.2d 429, 431 (Minn. App. 1986) (citing McCarthy for proposition that "the parental support obligation may be extended beyond the child's majority"), review denied (Minn. Aug. 13, 1986). We cannot read McCarthy to preclude consideration of a child's needs after the child reaches the age of majority, particularly on this record where the affidavits of both parents show they were aware of son's disability and probable need for ongoing support and where, in three separate orders, the court found son unable to support himself.[1] While son may qualify for assistance or have income from other sources,[2] and while such funds, depending on the circumstances, could reduce or eliminate appellant's support obligation, neither the definition of "child" nor the relevant case law precludes requiring appellant to pay support for son after son reached age 20.

Furthermore, the 1996 stipulation states that appellant's support obligation continues until one child reaches majority "as defined in Minn. Stat. sec. 518.54, subd. 2," is emancipated, dies, or until further order of the court. Generally, dissolution stipulations are treated and interpreted as binding contracts. Emerick on Behalf of Howley v. Sanchez, 547 N.W.2d 109, 112 (Minn. App. 1996). When interpreting contracts, courts presume parties intend the language used to have effect and will attempt to avoid an interpretation of the contract that would render a provision meaningless. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 877 v. Loberg Plumbing & Heating, 266 Minn. 426, 436, 123 N.W.2d 793, 799-800 (1963); see Starr v. Starr, 312 Minn. 561, 562-63, 251 N.W.2d 341, 342 (Minn. 1977) (applying rules of contract construction to interpretation of dissolution stipulation). Here, because appellant stipulated to paying support until the child was emancipated under Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2, and because Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2, lacks an upper age limit on persons who can be deemed children if, as here, the person is incapable of self-support, appellant functionally stipulated to paying support for son indefinitely. The ALJ did not abuse her discretion by holding appellant to his stipulation. See Lindsey v. Lindsey, 388 N.W.2d 713, 716 (Minn. 1986), aff'd, 388 N.W.2d 713 (Minn. 1986) (stating district court has inherent power to interpret and enforce a dissolution decree). Cf. Plath v. Plath, 393 N.W.2d 401, 403 (Minn. App. 1986) (parties to dissolution may bind themselves to level of performance higher than that which courts could require of them).


*Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] Appellant also cites an unpublished opinion to support his argument. Unpublished opinions are of limited value in deciding an appeal. See Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3(c) (1996) ("[u]npublished opinions of the court of appeals are not precedential") (emphasis added); Dynamic Air, Inc. v. Bloch, 502 N.W.2d 796, 801 (Minn. App. 1993) (stating dangers of mis-citation and unfairness associated with use of unpublished opinions and that while persuasive, "[t]he legislature has unequivocally provided that unpublished opinions are not precedential").

[2] We note the record shows son has resources consisting of structured settlement payments received by his guardian. Additionally, when son reaches age 22, he will receive a lump sum payment and additional lump sums every five years thereafter.