In the Matter of Dakota County and Floding v. Gillespie

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(Filed July 22, 2015) (Supreme Court)

Appellant Mother, who was receiving child support from Respondent Father, began receiving Social Security dependent benefits upon Respondent’s retirement. The child support magistrate granted Respondent’s motion for modification, offsetting his obligation by the dependent benefits received. The district court clarified the magistrate order to expressly provide for benefits already received by Appellant to be applied to Respondent’s prospective child support obligation. The Court of Appeals affirmed, ruling that the application of past benefits to Respondent’s prospective obligation did not constitute a retroactive modification of child support, which is not authorized by the support statute, other than while a modification motion is pending.

The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the subtraction of the dependent benefits is an integral part of the child support calculation, which means a dollar-for-dollar offset of the benefits is not necessarily accurate. Moreover, the statutes do not provide a provision for accommodating the commencement of Social Security benefits, so the offset must necessarily occur in conjunction with a modification under the applicable statutory provision.

There was a dissenting opinion emphasizing that the receipt of benefits (not a modification motion) is the essential triggering event for the subtraction of benefits that, under the statute, must occur. Therefore, the dissent would have affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling.

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