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    Frequently Asked Questions
    About Cost-of-Living Adjustments

    What is a cost-of-living adjustment? 
    Are you eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment? 
    When should you file for the adjustment? 
    How is the amount of the adjustment determined? 
    Where do you file these papers? 
    What is a modification of child support? 

    What is a cost-of-living adjustment?  

    Most child support orders issued in Minnesota since August 1, 1983, have included a requirement that the child support amount be adjusted every two years based on changes in the cost of living. The cost-of-living-adjustment reflects the change over a period of time in what we pay for such goods as food, clothing, housing, etc. 

    Cost-of-living adjustments are designed to help you keep up with inflation--to recognize that the costs of caring for your children today are higher than they were when your child support was established. Because of inflation, clothing and food cost more today than when child support was established. In recent years, inflation has been relatively low (1 to 4 percent a year), but inflation rates can fluctuate significantly and it is important to keep cost-of-living adjustments up to date because of this. 

    Are you eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment?  

    You should check your child support/spousal maintenance order to see if it mentions a cost-of-living adjustment. Usually this information appears in Appendix A of the order or divorce decree. 

    If there is no reference to a cost-of-living adjustment in your child support/spousal maintenance order, you must first go through the process of adding this provision. If you receive child support or both child support and spousal maintenance, ask the Child Support Enforcement Office in your county for help. This office will not help if you have spousal maintenance only. If you receive only spousal maintenance, you should talk to an attorney about adding a cost-of-living adjustment provision to your order. 

    When should you file for the adjustment? 

    Even though you are entitled to a cost-of-living adjustment, you must request the adjustment when two years have passed. It does not happen automatically unless the county is collecting child support for you. 

    You can only request an adjustment every two years. You can't ask for an adjustment every year. 

    If it has been greater than two years since the last adjustment or change to your order, or it has been greater than two years and no prior adjustment has been made, you can compute the adjustment for the time you missed. Two court decisions have upheld the right to do so. 

    In Braatz v. Braatz, 489 N.W.2d, 262 (Minn. Ct. App. 1992), the court decided that the "statute does not preclude the district court from adjusting a support obligation based on the cost-of-living increase over a period greater than two years where no prior cost-of-living adjustment has been made." In Huizinga v. Huizinga, 529 N.W.2d, 512 (Minn. Ct. App. 1995), the court further clarified that the discretion of the district court is limited to "determining whether all or part of the cost-of-living adjustment should not take effect." The burden is on the person who pays. "The cost-of-living adjustment shall take effect unless the obligor establishes an insufficient increase in income." 

    How is the amount of the adjustment determined? 

    The adjustment you are entitled to is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is a standard measure of the inflation rate and is determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. Your child support/spousal maintenance order might specify which CPI you must use. If it does, you must use the CPI indicated in your order. If it does not, you may choose either of the following CPIs to calculate the adjustment but you must be consistent with the index you use (e.g. both must be the monthly CPI-U or both must be the semi-annual Mpls./StP CPI-U).

    The CPI Table lists two different CPIs. They are the CPI-U and the MPLS/ST. PAUL CPI-U. The "U" stands for "urban consumers" and "MPLS/ST. PAUL." represents a measure of the inflation rate specifically for the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. Again, you must use the CPI measure stated in your child support order or divorce decree, if any.  Note: The MPLS/ST. PAUL CPI-U is available only twice a year (semi-annually).  The MPLS/ST. PAUL CPI-U listed in the July column of the table is for the first half (January through June) of the current year and the number listed in January is for the second half (July through December) of the previous year. 

    There are also several base years for the CPI. Included in this guide is a CPI Table which lists the two CPI-Us for the 1967 base year. It does not matter which base year you use, but you must use the same base each time you calculate an adjustment. 

    Where do you file these papers?  

    After completing the Cost-of-Living Adjustment Form, the Letter of Notification, and the Affidavit of Service by Mail, you should make several photocopies of them. 

    1) Send the original versions of these three forms to the court where your child support order or divorce decree was finalized, to be placed in your file.  To obtain the address of the court administrator you may have to call the court administrator's office in that county or look on the web at: http://www.courts.state.mn.us (on the map of Minnesota click the judicial district number which includes the county).  

    2) Send copies of the Cost-of-Living Adjustment form and the Letter of Notification to the person responsible for paying child support/maintenance. 

    3) Send copies of the Cost-of-Living Adjustment Form and the Letter of Notification to the employer if the person is paying you through his or her employer. 

    4) If you are receiving spousal maintenance only and your ex-spouse sends the payments through the county, you should also send copies of the Cost-of-Living Adjustment Form and the Letter of Notification to the county child support enforcement office. 

    5) Finally, be sure to keep copies of all the forms for your own records.

    What is a modification of child support? 

    By law, child support should be set according to Minnesota’s child support guidelines.  These guidelines set a percentage of the obligor's income based on the size of the obligor's net monthly income and the number of children for whom support is being determined. If you feel the amount of child support you receive is not appropriate based on the guidelines, you may wish to consider a legal modification of your child support award. The modification process– which will involve a review of the payer's income– is entirely different from the cost-of-living adjustment process.

     Child support orders can be modified if there is:

    • a substantial* increase or decrease in either parent’s earnings; or
    • a substantial increase or decrease in the needs of a parent or child; or
    • a change in the child’s or parent’s cost of living; or
    • extraordinary medical expenses for the child; or
    • a new or increased or decreased need for paid child care services because of work or education needs of the custodial parent; and
    • any of these changes make the terms of the original order unreasonable or unfair.

    *It is presumed that there is a substantial change in circumstances and the order is unreasonable and unfair if:

    • current support is 20 percent and $50 higher or lower than the guidelines;
    • the medical support provisions are not enforceable;
    • the health coverage ordered is not available to the child for whom the order is established; or
    • the existing order is in the form of a percentage, not a dollar amount.

    To pursue a modification of child support, ask the Court Administrator’s office in your county for a form to request a modification in child support. If the county is providing child support services, either parent may request in writing that the child support office review their support order to see if the requirements for a modification are met.  If so, the county may request a modification in child support in the expedited child support hearing process.  For more information, you may wish to read the OESW brochure on child support.

Cost-of-Living Adjustments | Overview | FAQ's | Minnesota's Law 
Other Sources of Information
  | Calculating the Adjustment  | CPI Table  

Last Updated: 12/11/19 (mmp)