How does going back to work impact the child support I receive? Part 1

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the child support guidelines. Though I often hear from women that they don’t know how they’re going to support themselves post separation and, ultimately, post divorce, I don’t think there’s a lot of really robust conversation surrounding that topic, which can make it hard for women to know how to ask the questions they need to ask to make the decisions they need to make.

Not only that, but decisions about costs and budgeting are different when you’re one nuclear family, versus when you separate into two different households.

For married, single family households, I often hear a common refrain:

It’s not worth me working if what I earn barely covers the costs of daycare.

Maybe that’s true – in that situation. But when you and your children’s father separate, and you’re now attempting to support your own household, does the same still hold true? Is it REALLY not worth you working, even if what you earn barely covers the cost of daycare?

To answer this question, the only thing we can do is turn to the child support guidelines. A lot of women want me to run guidelines, but they don’t ask me about a lot of different scenarios, and how that will impact their support. A lot of women seem to assume that whatever income they earn will decrease their child support dramatically.

It doesn’t exactly work that way. Whatever you earn doesn’t necessarily result in a dollar for dollar reduction in the child support you receive.

Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. It’s a little confusing, if you’re unused to thinking about it – so stick with me.

The child support calculations use your COMBINED INCOME – that is, yours and your child’s fathers, added together – to generate a support figure. The two of you share responsibility for that figure PRO RATA (or, proportionally, based on your incomes).

The end result of this is that your combined income will cause the support guideline to increase. So, though you may now earn 20% of the total combined income, where you didn’t earn any (or earned less) of it before, that doesn’t necessarily mean that his total overall support will go down.

In fact, in many calculations I’ve seen, it goes UP!

Let’s look at an example, okay?

So, let’s say he earns $100,000 a year. You earn $0. You have two children, but no child care expenses (you stay at home), and he pays health insurance coverage for the children in the amount of $100 per month. Under a primary physical custody guideline, that gives you $1,440 per month in child support.

But let’s say you go back to work. You earn $20,000 a year. On it’s own, that takes your child support down to $1,289 per month. But you also have the $1667 per month that you’re earning now as a working woman. So, combined, overall, each month, you have $2955 to live off of – and that’s not even counting the spousal support you might also receive!

Let’s say you earn $50,000 a year. Guideline child support (again, primary physical custody) is still $1,182 per month! It’s like $240 less than what you would have had when you earned NOTHING per month, only now you’re also getting $4,166 per month from your job – a total to you of $5348 per month. It’s much more livable.

It doesn’t go down as much as you’d think – even though, especially in the second example, you’re earning way, way more – because you’re sharing a portion of a larger pie. Since your COMBINED incomes are what matter, you are now responsible for a portion (as opposed to him being responsible for 100% of the support guideline when you earned nothing), but the pie is bigger. So, as you can see, not a dollar for dollar reduction at all.

But, wait – didn’t I say that his child support obligation might go up? Well, you should also notice that, in these examples, I didn’t account for childcare. Now, you may or may not have childcare expenses. Your kids could all be school aged. Or your mom might be willing to watch them for you while you work. Whatever the case may be, it’s entirely possible that your situation wouldn’t include childcare. But, if it does, you’ll have to remember that he’ll be responsible for a portion of that, too.

Let’s run the same calculation again. With you earning $0, you wouldn’t be able to factor childcare in; according to the guidelines, its supposed to be work related childcare. But let’s say that, whether you earn $20k, as in the first example, or $50k (and I’ll run it both ways, so you can see), you have $1,000 per month in childcare costs, paid by you.

If you earn $20k per month, with $1000 per month in childcare (which, as you may notice, is $1667 per month before taxes, so BARELY enough to cover childcare on its own), the child support guideline is $2,122. (Remember, before, without childcare, he was paying just $1,289 – so this is a net increase TO HIM of $833!) It’s a net increase to you, too – you have the $1667 you earn each month, plus the child support of $2,122. Subtracting the cost of childcare, that’s still $2789 to you each month – a significant increase from the $1,289 you got with just child support being factored in! It’s $1,500 a month MORE!

If you earn $50k per month, with the $1000 per month in childcare, child support goes up to $1849. (Remember, without childcare, he was just paying $1,182 before – a net increase to him of $667 per month, even though nothing else on his end has changed.)

With childcare added in to the calculation, you are responsible for your own pro rata portion of that cost – but SO IS HE. So, in a situation where you’re maintaining two separate households, its often more beneficial for you to work, even if what you actually earn each month is barely enough to cover the cost of daycare.

As you can see, it’s not a dollar for dollar reduction, either. And the end result is in you having more money to live off of each month.
Look, I’m a modern woman, too. Although I work (and have two children of my own), I wouldn’t tell any woman who was completely closed off to the idea of re-entering the workforce that she had to. I’m only here, illustrating options, so that you can make the best choice for you under the circumstances. Whether that includes going back to work or not, it’s a decision that you should make with all the relevant information available to you.

Additionally, I think it’s important that you have ammunition to clap back against any husband or child’s father who suggests that because you don’t work, you’re leeching off of him. That’s simply not true, as these calculations show. In a case with no childcare, his costs might go down a teensy bit – but it’s not dramatic. In a case with childcare, though? It’s entirely possible he’ll pay more, perhaps even SIGNIFICANTLY more. So, although there’s a net cost to you that comes from not working, your not working is likely not hurting him at all.

Get a job, don’t get a job – whatever. But get the information, and make good decisions that take into account the real financial needs you and your children will have, now and after your divorce is finalized.

For more information, request a copy of our custody book, get more information about an upcoming custody seminar, or give our office a call at 757-425-5200. We’d be happy to run some child support guidelines for you!