Calculating the Amount of Child Support

How is the Amount of Child Support Determined?

Federal law now requires that the amount of a child support payment be set in accordance with a guideline. Having a guideline is believed to prevent widely different amounts of child support being ordered from courtroom to courtroom. Guidelines provide an objective basis for the determination of the amount of support to be paid. As a result, most states have established formulas that are used to determine the amount of the payment from one parent to the other.

What Income Items Do Typical Formulas Cover?

The formula is based on the respective net incomes of the parents. Federal and state income taxes, Social Security and Medicare tax, health insurance, union dues and other mandatory expenses are subtracted from a parent's gross income (that is, income from all sources including, but not limited to, wages and investments) to arrive at his/her net income.

What Other Items Do Formulas Consider?

Time Spent With Child. Besides the respective net incomes of the parents, the amount of time each parent spends with the child is factored into the formula. Since a parent who spends more time with the child is most likely incurring greater expense in raising the child, the "custodial parent" (a term that is often used in association with the parent who has the physical custody and responsibility the majority of the time) is considered to spend more money on the child than the "non-custodial parent" (the parent without primary physical custody). Since the custodial parent spends more of his/her income on the child, the child support formula includes this factor in determining the amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other.

Number of Children. Along with the amount of time that a parent spends with a child, the number of children in common between the parents is often considered. The theory is that certain fixed expenses do not rise with the number of children for whom support must be provided, so the actual amount of support per child is lower given the greater number of children in common.

Special Circumstances. In addition, special circumstances may require a greater amount of child support to be paid. Special circumstances, such as extraordinary medical expenses, special educational needs, travel expenses incurred for child visitation, uninsured catastrophic losses and the cost of basic living expenses for children from another relationship, can affect the amount of guideline child support that is to be paid.

Since there are a number of factors that go into the formula to determine guideline child support, some states have approved computer programs designed specifically for determining the amount of child support. Use of a computer program to determine the amount of child support is a very objective method for determining child support.

Proper analysis of all the factors can have dramatic effect upon the determination of the guideline child support amount. Depending upon the method that is used in a given state, seeking a lawyer's professional advice can be well worth the cost.

How Do You Show Income?

The court can require documentary evidence, such as pay statements, profit/loss statements of sole proprietorships, and tax returns, to be produced and certified as true under penalty of perjury. The intent is that all income received by a parent will be considered when his/her net income is being calculated.

If you suspect that a party is hiding income -- such as by not reporting "cash" or "off the books" income -- it may be difficult to prove, but an experienced lawyer usually is able to help you figure out how to do so.

What About Allocation of Standard of Living?

Each parent is supposed to pay for child support according to his or her ability and "circumstances and station in life". A parent with the higher standard of living has the obligation to ensure his or her children share in that lifestyle. A non-custodial parent cannot be forced to pay child support beyond his or her means simply to match the custodial parent's new " station in life" (as where custodial parent remarries into wealthier social position).

Can a Parent Limit the Amount of Future Child Support That is to Be Paid to the Other (Custodial) Parent?

Maybe. Child support is awarded in the best interests of the child. In order to limit the amount of future child support payments, the interests of the child must be adequately considered. In theory, a disinterested Guardian Ad Litem for the child would have to be appointed and represent to the court that the best interest of the child would be to limit such future support payments. This would expose the Guardian Ad Litem to the possibility of a future claim by a former child (having reached the age of majority, s/he is considered to be competent to bring a legal action on his/her own) that the limitation of child support was not in his/her best interest. Thus, these limitations are rare.

Some states, however, will consider an argument that if there is a high level of income/wealth by one or both parents, a limit to the amount of support is proper. For example, suppose that the non-custodial parent has $1,000,000 in annual earned income which results in a guideline support amount of $300,000 to the custodial parent. In some states, the non-custodial parent may be able to argue that such a high level of support is not in the best interest of the child, and that a lower guideline support amount should be set.

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