How does going back to work impact the child support I receive: The Virginia Child Support Guidelines, Part 2

Posted on Feb 10, 2021 by Katie Carter

On Monday, I wrote about Virginia’s child support guideline calculations, and what might happen to child support in a situation where a mom, who previously stayed at home, re-entered the workforce.

I wrote the article for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I’ve recently encountered two different attitudes. One was a woman, telling me that she was afraid to go back to work when what she could earn was basically what it would cost her to have her kids in childcare. Another was a man, who wrote a really nasty post on social media that I unfortunately happened to see, insinuating that his child’s mother was increasing the child support burden on him because she was unemployed.

I can’t go back to work, if what I earn is barely enough to cover childcare!

The first attitude, I think, is understandable – and it’s very consistent with general attitudes I see about women in the workplace. Especially now, with the pandemic running rampant through the country, and women being laid off left, right, and center, and the costs of childcare (when you can even find it!) being so high that it’s hard for many people to afford.

My child’s mother is unemployed, which means I have to pay more in child support than I should! She’s lazy and horrible, and I won’t stop until I burn all of Virginia’s courts to the ground so fathers get what they deserve!

I may be embellishing here (or am I? It was a truly hateful post) but this is an attitude I’ve also seen, time and time again. On Monday, I began the process of debunking that attitude and, hopefully, adding in some handy dandy ammunition for you to use, in the event your child’s father shares this nasty mindset.

On Monday, I talked about how child support guidelines are affected when a mom goes back to work in a primary physical custody scenario. As we discussed, her earning a new income does not mean a dollar for dollar reduction in the amount of support she receives; in every circumstance, she had more take home money each month with a job than she did without, whether or not she paid childcare each month. (And, in situations where there was childcare, dad paid MORE in child support each month – even though mom was now earning an income!)

But how is child support impacted in a case where the parties have SHARED physical custody – meaning that the non-custodial parent has 90 or more days in a calendar year?

We see more and more shared physical custody all the time, so it is important to look at how the different kinds of custody and allocations of parenting time impact child support. Child support in Virginia is established by a guideline figure so it’s not something that we litigate on its own – but, to the extent that custody impacts child support, that does sometimes result in litigation.

In shared physical custody, child support is on a sliding scale – the more time the non custodial parent has, the less support he pays.
Let’s look at some examples, using the same numbers we used from our article on Monday.

We’re going to take a two child family, and a dad who earns $100,000 annually. Mom earns nothing, but the parties have shared custody. Dad has 90 days, and pays $100 per month in health care. Child support is $1520 per month.

Now, take the same figures, except that the parties split parenting time equally, with each parent having 182.5 days. Child support is $1011 per month.

What happens under the shared custody guidelines when mom gets a job? How does it impact her income each month? How does it impact how much child support dad pays overall?

90 Days of Parenting Time Shared Custody Calculation, With and Without Childcare

Let’s keep the numbers the same – two kids, dad earns $100,000, and pays $100 a month for the kid’s healthcare. Now, mom earns $20,000. Dad has 90 days of parenting time. Child support is $1270. So, as you can see, her child support goes down $250 per month, but she also has the extra income from the job — $1667 per month, for a total monthly benefit to her of $2937.

But what if she needs childcare? Going back to work, especially if you have young children or you’re a military family without friends or family nearby, often means that you need at least some childcare. Let’s assume that there’s $1,000 per month in childcare expenses, but all the rest is the same – as you can see, with $1667 per month in come (before taxes!) this mom’s income barely covers childcare.

Under the shared custody calculation, with dad having 90 days of parenting time, this gives her $2104 per month in child support.
As far as net benefit to mom, she’s now being pay $1667 per month to work, she gets $2104 per month in child support, and just subtracts the $1000 per month in child care – for a total of $2771 per month. How does that impact dad? Well, as you can see, he pays $2104 now, compared with $1270 without child care costs – and $1520 when she wasn’t working at all! That’s up $834 per month with childcare, and up $584 compared to WHEN MOM WASN’T WORKING AT ALL!

182.5 Days of Parenting Time Shared Custody Calculation, With and Without Childcare

Okay, okay – it’s a sliding scale, right? So, if dad has more time, he’ll pay less in support. Right? Right. So, let’s crunch the same numbers, and the only thing we’ll change is the parenting time.

We already saw that when mom doesn’t work, dad pays $1011 per month when they split the parenting time 50/50, with 182.5 days per year in parenting time each.

But when mom goes back to work and she earns $20k annually, child support goes down to $718. So, $718 plus the $1667 she earns at her new job is more overall per month – though dad’s portion of that goes down slightly.

When mom goes back to work and earns $20k, and incurs $1,000 per month in work related childcare, what happens then? When I run those guidelines, I get a child support amount of $1551. That’s a pretty significant increase for dad, right? Compared with paying just $1,011 per month when mom didn’t work at all.

The point of running these numbers isn’t to find out how to make your child’s father pay the most. But it IS to educate yourself, and to encourage you to crunch YOUR numbers, so that you know what could be if the facts were a little different.

If you’re making the decision to go back to work – or not – you should do so in full knowledge of what that decision might cost you, both in terms of what the child support could be and also in terms of what you could earn, independently from your child’s father, every single month. (And that’s not even counting the significant benefit of earning your own health insurance, 401(k), and other benefits through your own employer!)

It gets complicated. There are a lot of variables. In this article, I only compared the situation where mom earns $20k. When you introduce the shared custody variable, the number of days of parenting time that each parent has affects the support guideline a lot; we’re no longer looking at just the income of the parties or whether or not they have childcare. So, I’ve run fewer calculations here than in my article on Monday (because, under primary physical custody, there’s fewer moving pieces), but I hope you see that the point of this is really the illustration of the impact of the division of days.

None of this is to suggest that these numbers accurately reflect your unique reality, but just to encourage you to ask questions, crunch numbers, and, ultimately, make the decisions that give the most benefit to you and your children each month. Divorce is expensive. Custody cases are expensive. LIFE is expensive. And you’ll need to have the income you need to meet its various demands, both now and in the future.

So ask the questions. Run the guidelines. And make the best decisions. And, also, shut him down if he tells you that you not working is causing him to pay more in child support – because that is simply not true.

For more information, or to schedule a one on one consultation so we can help you run the guidelines and weigh the pros and cons in your unique circumstances, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.