Child support payments can be a complicated issue, adding an extra source of stress during an already difficult time. However, information is your ally in any legal situation, and being informed about what’s happening and why can help put your mind at ease.
Determining the amount of future payments involves a number of different factors, but the most significant one is gross income. Gross income is a person’s total income amount before taxes and any other deductions. The child support calculation uses the gross income of both parents to determine each parent’s ability to provide for the child financially. If the primary custodial parent’s gross income is much higher than that of the other parent, payments are likely to be lower. Conversely, if the primary custodial parent is worse off financially, payments will be assigned a higher value. There are also some situations where the primary custodial parent may have no gross income. “If a mom has the child or a dad has the child and the child’s less than six years old, the mom doesn’t have to work and the law won’t make her work,” says Dorene Kuffer. “Her income can actually be zero.”
The amount of time the child spends with each parent is also an important consideration. Most of the time, the primary custodial parent provides for the child on a day-to-day basis, while the child spends alternating weekends and holidays with the other parent. However, if the child is under the care of the non-primary custodial parent between 35 and 50 percent of the calendar year, that must be considered when calculating payments. In that situation, parents are more directly sharing the costs of raising the child, so less support is necessary to the custodial parent.
In addition to the cost of feeding, clothing and caring for the child, other factors are taken into consideration. Medical, dental and vision insurance may be provided by either parent and the support payment amount is adjusted to compensate. If both parents are able to provide insurance, the court will examine the two insurance plans and decide which is more cost-effective.
Child support may also be used to help cover the costs of work-related day care. This usually means providing day care for the child while the primary custodial parent is at work. However, it can also include day care services necessary to attend school or job training, provided the primary custodial parent can show that that time is being used to increase earning potential.
Other expenses included when calculating child support payment amounts may include visitation expenses such as gasoline and plane tickets, auto insurance for teenage drivers and costs for medication not fully covered by insurance.
Modifications to Child Support
If the gross income of one or both parents is significantly altered, payment amounts may also be changed. However, in order to limit legal battles between parents over minor changes, the new gross income figures must result in a change of at least 20 percent to the child support payment before the updated income will be taken into account. In order to determine whether a change is necessary, either parent may send a written request to the other for certain financial records, including the most recent tax return or pay stub.
The payment amount is calculated through one of two predetermined worksheets, depending on whether or not the child is cared for by the non-primary custodial parent at least 35 percent of the time. In most cases, the amount suggested by the worksheet is the amount of support that will be required. In order to reduce that amount, a parent must have a compelling reason. A judge will review the information provided and determine whether a lower payment amount would be in the best interest of the child.