Courts Cannot Retroactively Modify Child Support For Receipt Of Social Security Derivative Benefits Received Prior To Service Of Motion

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In, In Re The Matter of Dakota County vs .Gillespie, A13-1240, (Minn. July 22, 2015) the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed, a Child Support Magistrate, District Court and Court of Appeals decisions that granted in part retroactive modification in child support and credit for prior derivative social security paid to the mother commencing in 2012 due to the father retiring due to a disability and him receiving social security disability benefits. At that time mom began receiving a derivative social security benefit for the children in the sum of $1,748 a month, while the father was ordered to pay $1,872 a month. Father sought a reduction because of his reduced income in retirement and the derivative benefits received by mom. Mom moved for an upward departure.

The child support magistrate granted father’s motion ,in part, offsetting the child support obligation by the derivative benefit amount reducing child support to $229 a month and also gave a partial credit for the social security benefits from the time they commenced. The magistrate stated this credit was not a retroactive modification. The magistrate relied on a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision Cty. of Grant v. Koser, 809 N.W. 2d 237, 244 ( Minn. App. 2012), which stated the child support statute did not specify the manner a court must subtract social security benefits from a support obligation, and does not limit applying a credit to either arrears or a current support obligation. The district court and subsequently the Court of Appeals affirmed the majority of the magistrate’s decision.

The Supreme Court accepted review and reversed finding a careful reading of all child support statutes 518A together reflect it is error to grant credit for derivative social security benefits received by the mother prior to when father serves notice of motion to modify. The court stated the court of appeals and the decision in Koser misinterpreted the child  support statutes. The court noted since the statute relative to derivative social security benefits did not expressly provide a post-order mechanism to account for when the benefits commenced, it stands to reason the modification and recalculation is governed by the general modification statute, which precludes retroactive modification prior to service of the motion.