Although courts encourage parents to work out as many issues as they can on their own, child support is one area in which parents have limited leeway for working out their own agreement.
A parent is obligated to pay support for a child until the child either turns 18, or until he or she turns 19 while still enrolled in high school. The obligation to pay support will also end if the child marries, joins the Armed Forces, or dies. If a child has a disability that makes it impossible for him or her to be self-supporting, the obligation to pay support may continue indefinitely. Unless the parents agree otherwise, there is no duty to pay for college or other post-secondary education.
The amount of child support that must be paid is decided according to guidelines set out in state law. The guidelines are followed unless there is a good reason for the court to order a higher or lower amount (For example, if a child has extraordinary medical needs, the courts may order a parent to pay more support). The guidelines set support based on the combined gross monthly income of both parents, and the number of children for whom support is to be paid. “Gross income” is defined as income from any source. The term does not include spousal support (alimony) or child support received. If a parent is self-employed, or receives income from a business he or she owns, or receives rental payments, the figure for gross income does not include reasonable business expenses. That sets the “basic support obligation.” That total is divided according to each parent’s income to figure the amount of the basic obligation for each parent. In addition to the basic support obligation, child support includes payment of the premium for medical and dental insurance for each child, and for the cost of child care needed for a parent to work or search for a job. If there are extraordinary expenses (uninsured medical, dental, or counseling expenses over $100; extraordinary educational expenses; transportation expenses for long-distance visitation), those will be added in to the support obligation. A court may also order that one parent be responsible for providing medical insurance for the child.
If the parents have entered into a shared responsibility arrangement, the basic support obligation is multiplied by 1.5. The support obligation of each parent is reduced in proportion to the percentage of the year the child spends with the other parent.
Child Support Example Calculation
For example, consider parents who have two children, aged 8 and 13. The parents have a combined gross monthly income of $4,000, with Parent 1 earning 60%, or $2,400 per month, and Parent 2 earning 40%, or $1600 per month. Gross monthly income refers to the income earned from employment before taxes. It includes basic wages, overtime pay, commissions, tips, and other forms of payment such as bonuses. The parents will have a basic support obligation of $834. It costs $125 per month to provide health and dental insurance for both children, which is provided through Parent 1’s employer. The 8-year old is enrolled in before-school and after-school child care, at a cost of $380 per month. That cost is paid by both parents. The total support obligation for both children is $1339.
Assuming the shared responsibility agreement call for an even split between the parents, Parent 1’s obligation is $803.40, or 60% of the total support obligation including health and dental insurance, as well as child care. Parent 2’s obligation is $345.60. In another scenario, if there is a shared responsibility arrangement that calls for the children to spend May through October (153 days, or 42% of the year) with Parent 1, the basic support (excluding health/dental insurance and child care) of $834 is multiplied by 1.5, which makes the shared responsibility $1251. Parent 1’s share is 60%, or $750.60. That amount is reduced by 42%, to take into account the time the children spend with Parent 1. Parent 1’s monthly obligation to Parent 2 is $225.27.
A child support order will include a provision that says that support will be taken directly out of the paycheck of the parent who pays support. This is a way of making sure everyone involved can rely on the payments being made, and being made on time. Many parents who pay support appreciate the convenience of not having to remember to make a payment every month, and also have a reliable record that payments were made.
Child support is part of a parent’s obligation to support their children. It cannot be used as leverage against the other parent. If the parent who has custody of a child refuses to let the other parent see her, the parent who is denied visitation may not withhold support in retaliation. Likewise, if a parent disagrees with the other parent’s parenting choices, support may not be withheld. In both of those situations, the courts have means for resolving the disputes. Those are the means that should be used.
When parents divorce, their children are often put in the middle. It is important for both parents to remember that their children still will need support from both of them—not just emotional support, but financial support as well.