Parenting was harder than expected, and despite promises to the contrary, your ex has disappeared and fallen off the face of the earth -- or for all you know, into one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes (we all know it's more like 12,000 lakes, but who's counting?). You looked into filing for child support, but you were quickly overwhelmed by the complicated procedures and paperwork that seem to be involved. Don't worry, the following article will give you an overview of the child support process, so you'll know where to start and what to expect as you go.
What Is Child Support?
If you want to know the basics about your Minneapolis child support case, read on. In Minnesota, all children have the right to be supported by both parents. If you are the custodial parent -- you have physical custody or your child lives with you on a full-time basis -- you automatically honor this right by directly supporting and caring for your child. To make sure the noncustodial parent also honors this right and supports your child, Minnesota courts may order him or her to help pay for the child's living expenses. This is called child support and involves three different kinds of support:
How Do I Receive Child Support?
In order to receive child support payments, you need to have a child support order. Depending on your circumstances, you'll either request an order through the court or through Hennepin County Child Support Services. Although parents may come to an informal agreement about child support on their own, these types of agreements should be submitted for approval to the family court in order to make them legally enforceable.
If you already have a case open with the court - i.e. you have already filed for divorce, legal separation, paternity, child custody, or a protective order - the judge can make a child support order as part of the existing case. It is important to know that if you and your ex are not married, you will need to start a paternity action before you can file for child support. By establishing paternity, you are ensuring both your child's legal rights, as well as your legal rights as a parent.
If you do not have an open case, and child support is the only issue you need established, you can start a case by filling out and submitting an application to Hennepin County Child Support Services. Your case will then go through Minnesota's expedited child support process (also known as "Ex Pro"), which was designed to make cases faster and easier to resolve.
How Much Child Support Can I Expect to Receive?
Different states have different methods of calculating child support. Minnesota's method takes into account both parents' income in determining the total amount of a child support order. To determine the specific amount owed by the noncustodial parent, courts follow guidelines (basically, a formula) that take into account:
You can get a general estimate of the amount of child support owed in your case by using Minnesota's child support calculator. Note, however, that if you and your ex have joint physical custody of your child (your child stays overnight with each parent at least 45.1% of the time), the court may use a slightly different formula.
What If My Ex Refuses to Pay Child Support?
The court and Hennepin County Child Support Services have many different enforcement methods at their disposal. Automatic income withholding is a fast and efficient enforcement method. It requires a noncustodial parent's employer to automatically withhold past due child support payments, and it is included in most new or recently modified child support orders. Other enforcement remedies include:
If you went through child support services to get a child support order, you can ask your caseworker to help you enforce the order. If child support services was not originally involved in your case, you can fill out an application to have them help you enforce the order.
What If I Need More (or Less) Child Support?
You can request that the court change your support order at any time by bringing a motion to modify support. Unless you and your ex agree to change the order on your own, the judge will only order a change if there has been a "substantial change" in circumstances that makes the original amount unfair to the child or the parents. The court usually defines a "substantial change" as an increase or decrease of $75 or 20% from the original order's amount. Remember that the court will once again be applying the special support formula, mentioned earlier. The court will only take into consideration specific changes in circumstances when applying the formula. Some examples of these circumstances include:
Also, keep in mind that your child support amount will be automatically increased every two years to compensate for a general increase in the cost of living (also referred to as a "COLA" increase).
Where Can I Get More Information?
The procedures and paperwork involved in requesting and receiving child support can be complicated and confusing. You can get additional help navigating the process by contacting Hennepin County Child Support Services, or by browsing through more information in FindLaw's general child support section.
Get Legal Help with Your Child Support Questions
Money matters, especially when they involve your children, can be highly emotional for both parties. The calculation of child support in Minnesota involves a pretty detailed mathematical equation, so it's best to speak with a local child support lawyer to learn more.
Contact a qualified attorney.