Child support is one of those areas of Virginia family law that is simultaneously easy and also complicated. I spend a lot of time trying to explain it, and exactly what goes into the calculation, because I think it’s important that women know what questions to ask.
At the end of the day, whether or not you can adequately support yourself is really important! In many cases, support comes in two forms: spousal support and child support. Though I’m only concerning myself with child support today, I do think it bears repeating (over and over, in some cases) that child support is the law!
All too often, I hear women who tell me they take pity on their child’s father. That he really can’t afford to pay child support. That she really can afford it on her own. Though, ultimately, in your case you’re the one in the driver’s seat (and not me), I usually challenge these opinions.
After all, as a judge once said to the husband of one of my clients: it is not a question of whether, after you have paid all your bills, you have enough to pay child support, but instead a question of whether, after you have paid your child support, you have enough to pay all of your bills.
It’s really well worded, and I’ve come back to that quote time and time again over the years. It’s not about you. It’s not about the child’s father. It’s about the child, and the child being able to have the maximum benefit of both parents.
To some extent, that means using dad’s money to buy shoes and food. It is also, though, being able to afford a nice play to live, to cover the utilities each month, and to keep a stocked pantry. These things increase your quality of life, too, it’s true; but it’s less a question of your benefit than of the child’s. Comfort, stability, and security are incredibly important, and his child support dollars are buying that, too. You sort of owe it to your child to take the child support, and to use it, in whatever way you deem most appropriate to make the child’s life better.
How is child support calculated in Virginia?
A number of things go into a child support calculation: the income of both parties, the number of children involved, the support for children from other relationships that is paid each month, work related childcare costs, health care costs for the children only, and the amount of time each parent has with the children.
There’s a difference in the calculation for primary physical custody (when the non custodial parent has 89 or fewer days with the child in a year) and shared physical custody (when the non custodial parent has 90 or more days with the child in a year). Under shared physical custody, child support is calculated on a sliding scale, so that the more time the non custodial parent spends with the child, the less he pays in child support.
The guideline support figure
The legislature established the guideline support figure, and its codified in the statute. It’s, basically, an arbitrary number that the government decided reflects a child’s monthly needs. The number goes up as the parent’s combined monthly incomes go up.
To determine what your guideline support figure is, add your monthly income with your child’s father’s, and move down the chart until you get to the number closest to it. Then, move to the right column by column until you reach the number of children you share in common (one, two, three, etc). That’s your guideline support figure.
Under a primary physical custody situation, you share responsibility for that figure pro rata (meaning, proportionally) based on your incomes. So, if you earn 40% of the income, you are responsible for 40% of that number.
If you’re the custodial parent, you won’t pay yourself, though. It’s not a monthly expense in the same way it is for the noncustodial parent, who’ll likely pay you directly for his portion of the child support each month.
The other pieces that go into the formula – work related child care, for example, and health insurance – will go in as well, and each parent will ultimately be responsible for those costs pro rata as well.
Under a shared physical custody arrangement, it’s a little more complicated because its calculated on a sliding scale, but the same basic principles apply. The guideline support figure is still the same, you just share it to a greater (or lesser) degree depending on how much time you each have with the child.
So, I have to pay child support, too?
Yes. No matter how you slice it, you’re both paying child support.
Even if you split the time with the child exactly 50/50 and you earn the exact same amount each month, you still have a guideline support figure – the court will just assume that you’re each providing for the child’s needs adequately while the child is in your care.
Obviously, you’ll spend money on the kid when he’s in your care, so that makes it unnecessary for you to pay yourself.
It’s also theoretically possible, too, that you’d have to pay your child’s father your portion of the child support obligation, especially if he is the custodial parent or he earns significantly less than you on a shared physical custody arrangement.
Child support is the law. Really, all parents are paying money to support their children, it’s just when the parents break up that we start to really get granular about who pays for what.
It’s always a good idea to run through the guidelines in any number of ways so that you get an idea of what different arrangements will actually look like. For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.