If there’s anything that’s lagging behind the times in divorce and custody, it’s child support guidelines. (Just kidding. This is Virginia. We’re lagging behind in a lot of places, I’m just choosing to talk about one area that, in my opinion, is particularly behind the times.)
It’s kind of like no one has any idea what it costs to raise a child in this day and age. For a lot of moms, the amount of child support is a little like a slap in the face. Or a lot like a slap in the face, depending on the age of your child. (Because, let’s face it, it’s not like they get LESS expensive as they grow older!)
Child support is one of the easiest areas of law in the sense that there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room. Child support is what it is. It’s based on a formula, and whatever you plug into that formula determines how much child support you’ll receive.
How child support is calculated
Child support is calculated based on a number of criteria: how much time you have with the child, how much income you and your child’s father earn, how many children are involved (and whether child support is being paid to children from another relationship), how much you pay in health insurance for the benefit of the child, and how much you pay in work-related child care.
Primary physical custody
So, first and foremost, how much time you spend with the child determines how much child support you’ll receive. If you have primary physical custody (meaning that the non custodial parent – the parent who has the child less – has 89 or fewer days with the child, you have primary physical custody) you’ll receive the maximum amount of child support, whether your child’s father (we are assuming that he’s the non custodial parent here) takes the full 89 days with the child or whether he’s a total deadbeat.
Shared physical custody
If the non custodial parent has 90 or more days with the child, you’re in shared custody territory. Shared custody is calculated based on a sliding scale; the more time you have with the child, the more child support you’ll receive. The reason for this is that the law assumes that, the more time the non custodial parent spends with the child, the more that parent will be responsible for incidental needs of the child – food, clothes, outings, etc. It increases the burden on that parent, and lessens the burden on the custodial parent, however slightly, and that offset burden decreases the amount of child support necessary.
I hear what you’re probably already saying – just because he takes the child more doesn’t mean he’s paying for more of the child’s things. Yes, I know. He probably isn’t. In my experience, mom is still responsible for the lion’s share of these things, anyway. But the reality is that it doesn’t matter, because, like I said, child support is one of those easy areas of law because it’s so cut and dry. Whether he’s helping more doesn’t actually matter, because the statute begins to change his obligation as soon as he’s above that 90 day mark.
Other factors that affect child support
The court will also look at how many children there are and what the cost of health insurance (for the children ONLY) and work related child care expenses are. Really, though, what matters most is how much your combined income is. Based off of those numbers, the statute provides a guideline level of support. The question is, based on whether you fall into the shared or primary physical custody categories, how that support obligation will be shared between the two of you.
To see the child support guideline table, click here. Add your income and your child’s father’s income together to see your total monthly income, and then move across the table to your right to see what the basic child support obligation is based off of the number of children you have. That’s guideline child support – the question is just, based on how many children, how much time you have, and how those expenses are shared between the two of you, exactly how much support you’ll receive (or, possibly, pay to him).
Military child support guidelines
If your child’s father is in the military, you most likely have heard of the military support guidelines. My experience with the military support guidelines is that they’re applied very intermittently. Some commands will force their subordinate officers to pay them; others seem to band with the service member and do whatever they can to avoid paying the child’s mother what the military allows.
In most cases, I would not recommend calling and complaining to his command. Really, though it might seem tempting, you don’t want to get him in trouble – his job is his ability to pay support at any level and, if you hurt his career, you’ll hurt your ability to receive support later on down the line. (And you may find that it doesn’t even pay off in the short term, because his command could be very unfriendly to you.)
The thing is… Military support guidelines have no bearing on how child support is awarded in the Virginia courts. Military rules and guidelines are not laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia; they’re not laws in any state, in fact. They’re unique to the military, and the reality is that divorce and custody are state-specific situations. You can’t get a divorce, or get child support awarded, or have custody determined in a military tribunal. A military JAG attorney can’t advise you, either.
To get any divorce or custody assistance, you’ll have to go to Virginia courts – and Virginia courts will not award support pursuant to military guidelines. In fact, you will annoy the judge if you suggest it. The judge doesn’t have the authority to award anything outside the bounds of Virginia law – and military guidelines are not Virginia law. If you’re receiving military support – good for you! You may want to slow your roll on the divorce or custody portion of your case if the military support you’re receiving is more than you’d receive under Virginia law. Just food for thought.
What child support includes in Virginia
Another reason I say that child support isn’t that generous is that child support is designed to fund all the things children need. It’s not just food and clothes. It’s also extracurriculars, like sports and music. If your kid is a world class volleyball player and travels all around to play, those costs are supposedly included in the child support calculations. There’s no built in way to get more support to help pay for elevated expenses for a particular child.
So, if you have elite level sports or some other kind of obligation, either you and your child’s father will have to agree on those expenses and how to split them (which is above and beyond a child support obligation), or you may find you’re footing the bill yourself. Parents of older children also run into issues with things like car insurance, college application costs, and prom dresses. There are some pretty seriously hefty expenses for kids, and, even though it’s unrealistic to expect that the child support guidelines cover those things, too—that’s the way our lawmakers intended child support to work.
Modification of child support
The good news is, though, that child support is modifiable. Anything related to the children – child support, custody, visitation – is based on the “best interests of the child” standard, and subject to modification. If your child’s father’s income goes up, so too will child support. This is based on the theory that the child is entitled to the benefit of both parents at their best, and that this is a changing standard. It doesn’t work that way in divorce; you, as an ex-spouse, are only entitled to what was earned during the marriage, and not to anything that he might go on to earn after divorce. The children, though, are entitled to benefit from your changed financial situation later on down the line. So, if he’s earning more later, you can go back to court (or re-negotiate) to raise child support. For more information about child support, or to have child support calculated in your case, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.