Under Minnesota law, a rebuttable presumption exists that child support should be calculated in accordance with Minnesota’s income shares model as contained in Minn. Stat. § 518A.35. However, a trial court possesses broad discretion in setting an award of child support. See, Rose v. Rose, 765 N.W. 2d 142 (Minn. Ct. App. 2009); see also, Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W. 2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). Paramount in all family law decisions involving children is the best interests of the child. See, Hunley v. Hunley, 757 N.W. 2d 898, 901 (Minn. Ct. App. 2008).
To this end, Minnesota law provides that a court may deviate from the child support guidelines, inter alia, to encourage “prompt and regular payments of child support and to prevent either parent or the joint children from living in poverty.” Minn. Stat. § 518A.43. It is important to note that the reasons listed above are simply two reasons among others that a court may deviate from the child support guidelines. Id. Indeed, courts have deviated from child support guidelines on a number of grounds, among them, maintaining the standard of living enjoyed by a child during the marriage. See, Riley v. Riley, 385 N.W. 2d 883 (Minn. Ct. App. 1986).
When determining whether to deviate from the child support guidelines a court must take into account the statutory factors contained in Minn. Stat. § 518A.34, including each parent’s gross income, the parental income for child support (PICS), each parent’s proportional share of PICS, etc. Further, in determining that a deviation from the guidelines is appropriate, the court must also take account of:
(1) all earnings, income, circumstances, and resources of each parent, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment…;
(2) the extraordinary financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and education needs of the child to be supported;
(3) whether the child resides in a foreign country…;
(4) which parent receives the income tax dependency exemption and the financial benefit the parent receives from it;
(5) the parent’s debts as provided in subd. 2; and
(6) the obligor’s total payments for court-ordered child support exceed the limitations set forth in section 571.922.
Minn. Stat. § 518A.43.
Where the court determines that a deviation is appropriate, it must make written findings regarding: each parent’s gross income, each parent’s PICS, the amount of the child support obligation computed under section 518.34, the reason for the deviation, and how the deviation serves the best interests of the child. Minn. Stat. 518A.37 Subd. 2; see also, Morrison County v. Watland, 448 N.W. 2d 71 (Minn. Ct. App. 1989) (reversing a trial court’s upward departure from child support guidelines due to a lack of finding); Johnson v. Johnson, 352 N.W. 2d 819 (Minn. Ct. App. 1984) (reversing an award of excess support when not supported by specific findings).
Because of the recent passage of the new child support guidelines, relatively little case law exists discussing deviations under the 2007 statute. However, it is clear that in deviating from the child support guidelines a district court must both take the best interest of the child into account and make written findings on said best interests. See, Fields v. Nwokeuku, Not Reported, 2009 WL 1684463 (Minn. Ct. App. 2009).