What goes into the child support calculation?

There are a LOT of pieces of information that go into a child support calculation, and it’s probably easiest to understand if we delve into each of those pieces of information. As you probably already know, child support is based on a formula, and that formula is binding on our courts. We plug the information you give us (we’ll go into more detail below), and the number it spits out is the guideline amount of child support. Whether your attorney calculates it, his attorney calculates it, or the judge calculates it, with the same information, the same number should be generated.

Number of Children

Obviously, we have to look first at the number of children. There’s less support payable for one child than there is for four, so that number can often make a big difference. We’re looking for children born or adopted to the parties.

Income of the Parents

Next, we’ll look at your income and his income. Income is defined as income “from all sources”, so it includes even non-taxable income which might not show up in someone’s W2, for example. For a military husband, his BAH and other income (including, for example, hazardous duty pay, which may or may not be taxable) is all included in that calculation. Bonuses, etc., are also included.

It’s a good idea, in general, to see both a pay stub and a tax return to get an idea of someone’s actual annual income. A tax return wouldn’t show some of the non-taxable stuff, which is why you might also want to see an LES (leave and earnings statement) or a pay stub. A bonus might not show up on a pay stub, which is why you might want to see a tax return or W2 statement.

If he’s paid in cash and doesn’t accurately report his income… Well, that’s a problem. Sometimes we can find that information, and sometimes we can’t – but this is a more complicated problem that you’ll probably need an attorney to help you resolve.

Support to Other Children

If you or your husband has other children for whom you are already paying child support, that number will go into the formula as well.

For my part, though, I’d want to be sure that he’s actually paying that child support. A copy of a court order verifying the amount, or even a bank statement showing that he’s actually paying support would help me feel a little less heartburn putting this in here.

Speaking to this point as well, you should know that child support won’t be equal from one child to the next. There are a lot of variables in a child support calculation, so unless all these numbers are the same between you and your child’s father, and your child’s father and his other child’s mother, your child may receive more or less in support than the other child.

Another thing that will go into your child support calculation are the health insurance premiums that are paid by whichever party covers the insurance for the children. The total health insurance premium doesn’t go into the formula; just the portion of the health insurance that covers the children.

We’re not talking about unreimbursed medical expenses – the amounts you have to pay for things (like copayments) that are not otherwise covered by your insurance. We’re just talking about the premium coverage.

Typically, unreimbursed medical expenses are split pro rata based on the parties income shares. So, if he earns 60% of the income, he’ll pay 60% of the unreimbursed medical expenses, and you’ll pay 40%. We often have agreements where the parties specify that they’ll split these 50/50, though. If your income is significantly less than his, though, we can insist on the pro rata division – because that’s what’s required by the statute.

Work Related Child Care Costs

The amount that you pay for child care also goes into the formula – and this can REALLY skew the numbers!

It should be easy, though, to determine what the cost of this is – any statement from your daycare provider or proof of payment to your nanny can verify this cost. If it varies from month to month, we can take an average number and include that instead. Or, in the alternative, if your costs are higher in the summer (especially because you have, for example, school aged kids who need a variety of summer camps that drive your costs up in the summer as opposed to the rest of the year when they’re in school) we can have a different number for the summer months versus the rest of the year.

The amount of time you have with the children

Yup, this matters, too!

If you have primary physical custody (meaning that the non custodial parent, the parent who has the children less, has 89 or fewer days with the children during the calendar year), we’ll use the primary physical custody calculation, which gives you (the custodial parent) the maximum amount of child support available under the guidelines.

If you and your child’s father share physical custody (meaning that the non custodial parent, the parent who has the children less, has 90 or more days with the children during the calendar year), you’ll be on a shared physical custody calculation. Under shared physical custody, the guideline figure is determined on a sliding scale – so that the more time the non custodial parent has with the children, the less he’ll pay in support. That’s because the formula assumes that, because of his increased time with the children, he pays for more of their meals and incidentals.

Does that mean that we literally count days on a calendar? Sometimes, yeah! It’s easy in a week on/week off schedule; there’s no need to count days then. But if it’s a weird schedule, then, yeah, we do often physically count days on a calendar.

What if I waive of reserve support? Is it gone forever?

No. Child support is always based off of the best interests of the child, and the best interests of the child is something that is constantly changing. If there’s a material change in circumstances, you can petition for a modification of child support, even if you’ve previously waived it. If you reserved child support? You don’t even need a material change in circumstances, you can petition the court at any time.

Child support is one of the easier areas of law. It’s required by law, so there’s not really a whole lot of debate over whether or not someone will pay. I’ve had to go to court on it once or twice with ridiculous husbands who refused to pay despite knowing full well that the law required it, and, in those cases, the husband got an earful from the judge.

Usually, an agreement is pretty easy, at least as it relates to the child support portion of the equation. (Custody and visitation – well, that’s a different story entirely!) For more information or to have a confidential consultation with a licensed Virginia custody attorney (who can help run a guideline calculation of support for you) give our office a call at 757-425-5200.