Most of us understand the basics of child support. You have a minor child, you pay support. Okay, well maybe we don’t understand the basics – because most people don’t seem to realize that even custodial parents (the parents who have the children more) usually have an obligation to pay something for the support of their children, too.
They don’t pay in the sense that they don’t have to write themselves a check every month, like the child’s other parent probably has to do, but in most cases there’s an amount that each parent is responsible for paying.
The child support guidelines are set in stone – or, well, set in black and white ink. They’re codified, and you can look at them here. So, basically, to determine what child support would be in your case, you add your monthly income with your child’s other parent’s monthly income, and go down the first column until you find that number. Then you move across the chart the appropriate number of spaces depending on the number of children you share together – one, two, three, and so on.
The number you find – at the intersection between your combined monthly incomes and the number of children you share – the child support guideline.
You share that child support guideline between you based on a number of different factors, including the amount of time you each have with the child, your relative share of that monthly income (is yours, for example, 40% of the combined monthly income?), the work related childcare costs you pay (which will add to the guideline), the health insurance costs you pay for the child alone, and so on. There are a few other things that might go into it, like support to another child, but we see that less frequently.
Ultimately, if you earn 40% of the income, you’ll be responsible for 40% of that guideline figure. You don’t pay yourself, obviously, but you’re essentially credited with providing that amount. Your child’s father will pay the rest.
The other costs, like health insurance and work related childcare, can take the total number that he (and you) are responsible for each month up above that guideline figure you see in the statute (obviously, a share of a $1300 a month daycare charge is going to increase your financial responsibilities) but you still share that pro rata – or, proportionally, based on your income.
It changes, too, depending on the amount of time each parent has with the child. In a primary physical custodial scenario, which is when the non custodial parent has 89 or fewer days with the child in a calendar year, the child support is at maximum level. It doesn’t matter whether dad spends the full 89 days with the child or is a total deadbeat – he pays the same amount in child support.
Under a shared physical custody arrangement, though, the number of days that the non custodial parent has alters the child support obligation. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ calculation anymore; it’s a calculation based on a sliding scale. So, if dad has 90 days, he’s going to pay more in child support than a dad who splits the year with mom and has 182.5 days. It gets fairly complicated and can vary dramatically depending on the parenting time each parent has, but that explains the general principle.
That’s why we often say that child support itself isn’t that complicated – we have a formula that tells us what child support is based on the numbers and that’s all very clear cut – but it is sort of complicated in the sense that a discussion centered on child support can ultimately touch all sorts of other issues, like custody and visitation. A dad might see the child support guideline and figure out that the only way to pay less is to have the child more, and what started out as a child support discussion ends up being a bigger discussion about custody and visitation.
Like everything else related to the children, child support is not fixed. It’s changing. Anything – custody, visitation, child support – is modifiable based on a material change in circumstances. So, child support could go up, or go down, over the years between now and when the child turns 19 or graduates from high school (which is the point at which child support terminates), whichever occurs soonest. It’s possible that you could find yourself in court, if you and your child’s father aren’t able to agree, to re-determine child support (and therefore custody and visitation – remember how they’re linked) constantly.
Usually, the court doesn’t like to hear petitions for modification until six months to a year has elapsed since the previous determination, but that’s still the opportunity, in most cases, for a LOT of hearings on custody, visitation, and child support.
Technically, child support is supposed to cover most of the things related to the children. It doesn’t include copays or unreimbursed medical expenses, which, by statute, are also shared pro rata based on the parties’ incomes.
It does include things like camps, sports, or other extracurriculars – unless you agree otherwise. Likewise, private school tuition might be something that you’d need to determine in addition to child support, as the guideline will likely not come close to giving you what you’d need in order to pay it. It’s by no means a guarantee, either. Judges are cautious about ordering parents to pay above the guidelines.
It’s a fine line. Judges often feel very strongly about the guidelines, but any upward deviations are reviewed carefully. Downward deviations are possible, too, but probably also unlikely. In the only case I’ve ever litigated where the husband asked for a downward deviation, the judge didn’t even let the husband finish. He told him, “The question is not, after you’ve paid your bills, what you have left to pay child support. It’s, after you pay child support, how much do you have left to pay your bills?”
You could argue for an upward deviation, or he could argue for a downward deviation – but without really good reason, you’re probably unlikely to get it. (Spoiler: so the child can go to space camp is probably not going to do it.)
You’ll definitely want to talk to an attorney about the support guidelines, and what might apply in your case. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.