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518.14 Costs and disbursements; attorney fees; collection costs.

Subdivision 1. General. Except as provided in subdivision 2, in a proceeding under this chapter, the court shall award attorney fees, costs, and disbursements in an amount necessary to enable a party to carry on or contest the proceeding, provided it finds:

(1) that the fees are necessary for the good-faith assertion of the party's rights in the proceeding and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length and expense of the proceeding;

(2) that the party from whom fees, costs, and disbursements are sought has the means to pay them; and

(3) that the party to whom fees, costs, and disbursements are awarded does not have the means to pay them.

Nothing in this section precludes the court from awarding, in its discretion, additional fees, costs, and disbursements against a party who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the proceeding. Fees, costs, and disbursements provided for in this section may be awarded at any point in the proceeding, including a modification proceeding under sections 518.18 and 518.64. The court may adjudge costs and disbursements against either party. The court may authorize the collection of money awarded by execution, or out of property sequestered, or in any other manner within the power of the court. An award of attorney's fees made by the court during the pendency of the proceeding or in the final judgment survives the proceeding and if not paid by the party directed to pay the same may be enforced as above provided or by a separate civil action brought in the attorney's own name. If the proceeding is dismissed or abandoned prior to determination and award of attorney's fees, the court may nevertheless award attorney's fees upon the attorney's motion. The award shall also survive the proceeding and may be enforced in the same manner as last above provided.

Subd. 2. Enforcement of child support. (a) A child support obligee is entitled to recover from the obligor reasonable attorney fees and other collection costs incurred to enforce a child support judgment, as provided in this subdivision. In order to recover collection costs under this subdivision, the arrearages must be at least $500 and must be at least 90 days past due. In addition, the arrearages must be a docketed judgment under sections 548.09 and 548.091. If the obligor pays in full the judgment rendered under section 548.091 within 20 days of receipt of notice of entry of judgment, the obligee is not entitled to recover attorney fees or collection costs under this subdivision.

(b) Written notice must be provided by any obligee contracting with an attorney or collection entity to enforce a child support judgment to the public authority responsible for child support enforcement, if the public authority is a party or provides services to a party, within five days of signing a contract for services and within five days of receipting any payments received on a child support judgment. Attorney fees and collection costs obtained under this subdivision are considered child support and entitled to the applicable remedies for collection and enforcement of child support.

(c) The obligee shall serve notice of the obligee's intent to recover attorney fees and collections costs by certified or registered mail on the obligor at the obligor's last known address. The notice must include an itemization of the attorney fees and collection costs being sought by the obligee and inform the obligor that the fees and costs will become an additional judgment for child support unless the obligor requests a hearing on the reasonableness of the fees and costs or to contest the child support judgment on grounds limited to mistake of fact within 20 days of mailing of the notice.

(d) If the obligor requests a hearing, the only issues to be determined by the court are whether the attorney fees or collection costs were reasonably incurred by the obligee for the enforcement of a child support judgment against the obligor or the validity of the child support judgment on grounds limited to mistake of fact. The fees and costs may not exceed 30 percent of the arrearages. The court may modify the amount of attorney fees and costs as appropriate and shall enter judgment accordingly.

(e) If the obligor fails to request a hearing within 20 days of mailing of the notice under paragraph (a), the amount of the attorney fees or collection costs requested by the obligee in the notice automatically becomes an additional judgment for child support.

(f) The commissioner of human services shall prepare and make available to the court and the parties forms for use in providing for notice and requesting a hearing under this subdivision.

HIST: (8593) RL s 3582; 1955 c 687 s 1; 1974 c 107 s 11; 1978 c 772 s 30; 1986 c 444; 1990 c 574 s 10; 1993 c 340 s 20; 1994 c 630 art 11 s 5; 1997 c 187 art 2 s 10