Child Support (Part 1)
Regardless of the results of your fight to gain custody of your children, child support will be an issue in your case. Unlike the issue of custody, where courts make discretionary decisions, there is substantially less “wiggle room” in setting the amount of child support. This is so because most states must follow uniform standards in their child support statutes to qualify for federal aid. Although the exact procedures and details vary from state to state, there is a certain basic pattern no matter where you live.
Generally, there will be a chart setting forth the base “presumed” amount of support to be paid. In making this determination, the chart will take into account income levels and the number of children to be supported. The charts assume that one parent will be the primary custodian, while the other will be paying child support.
There are a number of technical differences in exactly what numbers are plugged into the chart to arrive at the presumed support amount, depending on the particular state. Some states will plug in gross income, i.e. before taxes, into the chart (for example, Missouri), while others utilize net income, i.e. after taxes (for example, Texas). Many states use the combined income of both parties (for example, Missouri), and then apportion the presumed support amount pro-rata. Others use the income only of the party paying support (for example, Illinois and Texas). In Texas, it’s even more complicated: only the income of the party paying support is considered in the chart, but if that party has more than $6,000 per month in net (not gross) income, then both parties’ incomes are considered in calculating additional support.
At least in theory, all the different variations on the chart should make no difference and child support amounts should be adjusted up or down to account for the source of the information being plugged in. In practice, however, the amounts vary from state to state. Further, it is important to understand that the child support amount is not set to only meet the basic needs of the child. Rather, the child support amount increases as income levels increase, on the theory that the household in which the child lives should get a shot at approaching the standard of living the child would have had if the marriage had not ended.
After the support has been calculated, additional amounts are added into account for the cost of day care and medical expenses. If the child has any extraordinary expenses (for example, unusually high medical expenses), they may also be accounted for. Finally, some states (like Missouri) allow a downward adjustment to the presumed support to account to a certain extent for money spent during the time the party paying support has custody of the children. The result of all these calculations is the presumed child support amount.
Once the chart has been used to calculate the presumed support amount, if either party (payor or payee) wants to deviate from it, either up or down, that party has the burden of proving that the presumed support amount is unjust or inappropriate. This is generally not an easy task. “I have too many bills to pay that much support” won’t cut it. The judge will be looking for specific reasons, tailored to the needs of the child and not the needs of the payor, to justify ordering an amount other than chart support. Unless both parties agree to a different amount that the judge thinks is reasonable, most of the time chart support or something close to it is the end result.
One exception to this is the situation in which the physical custody of the children is split relatively evenly between dad and mom. In such a case, both parents incur child care expenses at about the same rate. However, remember that the child support chart is designed around the assumption that one party will have custody of the children the majority of the time and as a result, incur a majority of the children’s expenses. As a result, where that assumption is false, the amount calculated pursuant to the chart may well be unjust and inappropriate. In fact, the Missouri child support laws specifically set forth this situation as one in which a deviation from chart support may be warranted.
If the judge is convinced that the presumed support amount is unjust or inappropriate, he then has fairly broad discretion to fashion an appropriate support order taking into account factors such as the incomes and resources of the parties, the custody arrangements, extraordinary custodial expenses.
This online custody guide is adapted with permission from “Civil War: A Dad’s Guide to Custody” (266 pages, softcover) – available in our online store .