Editor’s Note: David Rucki and Sandra ‘Sam’ Grazzini-Rucki [Grazzini] are known for their highly publicized divorce and child custody battle. Their case gained attention in the United States due to allegations of parental alienation against Grazzini, domestic abuse against Rucki, and the disappearance of their two daughters in 2013, when Family Court flipped custody of their children from Grazzini to Rucki.
The daughters were found safe in 2015 and forced into a remote prison-like camp for reunification therapy with their father. The happy circumstance of locking the daughters away prevented them from testifying against their father and his abuse.
Grazzini was convicted of six felony counts of custodial interference and spent several months in jail.
In this story by Michael Volpe, we probe the history of the child support orders in this case.
By Michael Volpe
The Minnesota divorce and custody case of David Rucki and Sandra “Sam” Grazzini-Rucki started in 2011 and on May 12, Judge Tim Wermeger issued the first child support order.
Based on Rucki’s income of $20,000 per month as the owner of TL Rucki Trucking, Judge Wermeger ordered Rucki to pay $3,673 per month in child support to Grazzini.
Rucki was delinquent in payments and, at one time, in danger of the state suspending his driver’s license. Judge David Knutson overruled the suspension order.
In April 2013, custody was flipped from mother to father -based on parental alienation.
At the time of the custody flip, Rucki owed more than $11,000 in child support to Grazzini.
Now Rucki demanded child support from Grazzini. He claimed he made far less than the $20,000 per month he earned at the time of the divorce when he owned his own trucking company. He claimed he earned $5,ooo per month as an employee of another trucking company.
Rucki lived in the affluent suburb of Lakeville, Minnesota, in a home valued at more than half a million. Yet in 2014, Rucki told Dakota County that his income dropped by 75%, making him eligible to apply for taxpayer-provided benefits.
The Court ordered Grazzini to pay $1,020 per month to Rucki in child support. Though Rucki was behind $11,000 plus on his child support payments to her, the Court ordered Grazzini to pay him with no offset for the money Rucki owed.
Missing from the Dakota County Child Support records is any mention of employment or income for Grazzini. The Court imputed her income.
In this process, a judge determines child support based on the income they think an individual can make, regardless of how much they make.
For several years after, Grazzini had no income, and could not pay, but the county continued to assess her at $1020 per month, with arrears with interest adding up.
With her arrest in October 2015, Minnesota suspended Grazzini’s child support obligations. For almost three years, Grazzini was in the crosshairs of the Minnesota criminal justice system and was not obligated to pay child support.
On May 3, 2018, as Grazzini served the last month of her sentence at MCF Shakopee, Child Support Magistrate Maria Pastoor held a hearing on Rucki’s request for the Court to reimpose Grazzini’s child support.
Magistrate Pastoor started the hearing with:
“Has either of the lawyers heard from Ms. Grazzini-Rucki or her lawyers? It is now 1:55 and Sandra Grazzini-Rucki is not here. I understand that she is currently incarcerated. She could have requested to appear by phone. That request probably would have been granted, but she did not make that request.”
Grazzini claims the Court never told her about the hearing.
At the hearing, Rucki argued his ex-wife, now a six-time felon, could get the same job she had as a flight attendant and that the Court should impute she could earn the same salary when she got out of jail.
Had Grazzini attended the hearing, she might have informed the Court that airlines do not hire felons as flight attendants.
On May 12, 2018, Magistrate Pastoor issued a ruling reinstating Grazzini’s child support – at $975 per month, starting June 1 – the day she exited jail.
Upon her release, Grazzini made a motion pro se, appealing the support order.
She wrote, “I applied for and now receive food support/SNAP. SNAP is a means tested program, indicating the recipient is impoverished and in need of assistance with food for their survival. This change makes the order unfair in its current form… According to Minnesota state law, modification of child support can be obtained based on receipt of public assistance…. I have been homeless, unemployed, and destitute.”
Child Support Magistrate Jan Davidson set a hearing in August.
In preparation for the hearing, Rucki filed an affidavit with the Court, stating, “I will not be turning over my tax returns.”
He swore in the affidavit that he was working as a low-wage employee paid by check at his own trucking company, TL Rucki.
Rucki claimed he no longer owned the company. His sister, a chiropractor, he said, owned it and he was her employee, making a fraction of what he earned when he owned it.
Rucki applied for public assistance benefits and received at least public medical assistance.
The hearing was held on August 7, 2018.
It started with Rucki taking the stand to explain why he should not have to disclose his tax returns.
On the stand, he said he received 1099s but, in his affidavit to the Court, Rucki swore he received W-2s, as an employee of TL Rucki Trukcing.
W-2 is for employees and involves tax withholding and potential benefits. 1099 is for independent contractors and business owners responsible for their taxes and benefits.
Child Support Magistrate Davidson abruptly ended the hearing, cutting off Rucki in the middle of his testimony.
Grazzini never got to make her arguments concerning her own impoverished status.
Two weeks later, on August 21, Magistrate Davidson issued an order reducing Grazzii’s support from $975 to $215 monthly.
Magistrate Davidson also concluded that Rucki was lying.
“The failure of [Rucki] to provide verification of his income after falsely claiming to be a W2 employee and to have check stubs showing year to date income, allows the court to make negative inferences about his income,” Magistrate Davidson stated.
She imputed his income at $10,000 per month, twice what he hoped.
Though the Court reduced Grazzini’s child support payments she was unemployed and homeless. She could not pay $215 per month.
She appealed. About a year later, on June 17, 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.
Judge Tracy Smith wrote,
“It is undisputed that Grazzini-Rucki is unemployed… Grazzini-Rucki argued to the CSM [Child Support Magistrate] that she is not employable because of her six felony convictions and because she was homeless and lacked a means of transportation. Grazzini-Rucki also stated that she did not have food ‘to maintain the energy to put one foot in front of the other’ and that she suffered from injuries impairing her ability to work.
The CSM did not ignore Grazzini-Rucki’s assertions; the CSM found that, given Grazzini-Rucki’s criminal history, Grazzini-Rucki could not earn the same level of income as she had prior to the felony convictions. However, finding ‘no reported job search efforts’ in between and after Grazzini-Rucki’s incarcerations and ‘no evidence that [she] is mentally or physically unable to work full time,’ the CSM did not accept Grazzini-Rucki’s statements that she could not obtain any kind of employment. Grazzini-Rucki does not argue that, contrary to the CSM’s finding, her statements are corroborated by other evidence. Grazzini-Rucki’s claim that her good-faith job-search efforts were unfruitful, or that her predicament prevented her from even trying to search for a job, relies solely on her own statements.”
Though the argument sounded good on paper, there was one thing the appellate Court failed to consider.
The evidence they said Grazzini did not show might have been offered had Magistrate Davidson not abruptly ended the hearing while Rucki was apparently lying about his w-2s. This would have given Grazzini a chance to establish hardship.
With no job and no home, Grazzini fell further behind on child support, and at $215 per month, it continued to accrue as unpaid debt.
In 2021, Minnesota transferred Grazzini’s back-due child support debt to Florida since Grazzini lives in Florida. The case remains open, though the youngest child is now in his 20s.