How Is The Child Support Obligation Calculated?
Legal Separation or divorce can be such a traumatic time for a family, especially when children are involved. In an effort to help lessen this impact, both parents will want to consider what is best for their children and consider ways to help minimize change to the schedule, lifestyle, and habits. One consideration is child support. How is this calculated? Does Utah have a set structure?
Parents have a legal duty to support their minor children. Unless a minor is emancipated. Child support continues until the child is 18 or has completed high school, whichever is later. Child support is for the use and benefit of the child. In some cases, the court may order child support to continue after age 18 for a disabled child who remains a dependent.
So, how is child support calculated? Child support is calculated using the gross monthly income of both parents and the number of overnights the child spends in each household. Both parents will need to provide proof of their income in order to accurately establish child support. This will come in the form of pay stubs and providing copies of income tax returns.
Utah law does establish Child Support Guidelines to calculate a parent’s child support obligation. The guidelines have three components:
• Base child support
• Medical care
• Child care expenses
Utah also has a table that determines the total support obligation for the children, which is shared by the parents according to their incomes. The non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. Child support is calculated by a formula established by Utah Code §78b-12-301.
The number of nights a child spends with each parent comes into play in determining child support obligations. According to www.utcourts.gov:
• The number of overnights a child spends in each parent’s home will also affect child support. There are three basic possibilities:
• The child spends at least 111 nights a year in the home of each parent. This is called joint physical custody.
• The child spends over 225 nights a year in the home of one parent. This is called sole physical custody.
• There are multiple children and some live with one parent and some live with the other parent. This is called split custody.
There are many other factors and considerations regarding child support payments such as which parent is responsible for the child’s health insurance; which parent is able to claim the child as a dependent on this income tax return; and how child support payments are to be made.
Utah Child Support & Overnight Calculations
Utah uses overnights, or where the children sleep, as the basis for figuring custody timeshare percentages used in its child support formula. Besides income, overnight totals are a key part of the Utah child support formula. Your overnights directly affect your child support, whether you pay or receive. Most overnight totals are estimates (and thus incorrect). Utah attorneys and judges often rely on overnight estimates, even if they are incorrect, because counting overnights is tedious and time consuming. Divorcing parents often rely on these estimates as well. Using estimates means your overnight totals are wrong when compared to your actual parenting time schedule. This means your child support amount will not be fair or exact.
How to calculate overnights instead of relying on estimates
To calculate overnights, the easiest and most accurate way is to use software. Without software, you’re forced to count each night for a whole year, which is error-prone when you include alternating holidays, summer break, and any changes to the schedule throughout the year.
Using software, you can also tweak your schedule to see how even little changes affect your total overnights, and you can see how your overnights change each year due to holidays and other events. You can also track what actually happens, and show how many overnights you’ve actually received for any period of time. Historical information is a powerful tool when you request a child support modification or when you request more parenting time.
Child support formulas in Utah are tied to sole or joint physical custody status.
• Utah sole physical custody: The children reside with and are supervised by the residential parent, while the other parent is entitled to overnight visitations. In Utah, when the nonresidential parent has 110 or fewer overnights with the children, the family courts classify it as sole custody. Parenting time does not figure into the formula.
• Utah joint physical custody: Each parent has significant periods of physical custody, which allows them frequent and continuing contact with their children. Utah requires that each parent host more than 110 overnights per year to qualify for joint physical custody. The number of overnights affects the amount of child support.
Utah child support formulas and overnight totals
Utah family courts use different formulas for sole and joint custody child support amounts.
• Sole physical custody: Utah family courts use a physical care method, which assigns a child support amount based on each parent’s income. The nonresidential parent pays child support to the residential parent. Parenting time does not factor into the formula.
• Joint physical custody: Utah family courts use a formula that adjusts the amount of child support payment based on the number of overnights each parent has with the children. As the overnight totals increase, the amount of child support decreases.
Examples of sole custody and Utah child support
Look at a sole custody scenario for a hypothetical child support case in Utah. Robert earns $4,000 per month, while Mary earns $2,400 per month. They have two children. Robert and Mary agree that he will have fewer than 110 overnights and he will be the nonresidential parent.
See how the child support amount differs in these sole custody examples:
Scenario #1: As the nonresidential parent, Robert will pay Mary $835 in child support.
Scenario #2: If Mary got a new job with equal pay to Robert, he would pay $721 in child support.
Scenario #3: If Mary became the higher earner at $4,000 per month while a layoff forces Robert to take a lower paying job at $2,400, he would still pay a portion of his income to Mary for child support. In this scenario, he would pay $501 to Mary.
In Utah, the nonresidential parent pays child support to the residential parent, regardless of which parent earns more.
If the custody was reversed, and Robert had sole physical custody of the children, Mary would pay a percentage of child support based on her income to Robert.
Examples of joint custody and Utah child support
Consider the hypothetical joint custody case of Robert and Mary. Robert earns $4,000 per month, while Mary earns $2,400 per month. They have two children.
See how the child support amounts change in these joint custody examples:
Scenario #1: Robert hosts the children for 111 overnights, the minimum required to qualify for joint physical custody. He pays $831 in child support to Mary.
Scenario #2: If Robert increases his overnights by two weeks to 125 per year, his child support amount lowers to $781 per month.
Scenario #3: If Robert’s overnights are equal to Mary’s, with 182 overnights, his child support amount lowers to $179 per month.
Scenario #4: If Robert’s overnights exceed Mary’s, such as 200 overnights, Mary pays him child support. In this case, Mary pays Robert $36 each month.
In Utah joint custody cases, the nonresidential parent pays child support to the residential parent, based on a percentage of his or her income.
Other factors in the Utah child support formula
Utah’s child support formula uses the following information to calculate your monthly amounts for joint custody child support:
• Overnights: Unlike some states, Utah does not factor in daytime visitations into a child support formula—only overnights. The nonresidential parent must host the children for 111 overnights or more to qualify for joint custody.
• Eligible children: Qualifying children in Utah must be under the age of 19 or still in high school. Disabled children who must remain with the residential parent may require child support past these limits.
• Gross earnings: Gross earnings are established based on tax records and current pay stubs. Utah law requires the use of both parents’ incomes from the equivalent of one full-time job to determine a child support amount.
How accurate child support helps your children
Paying accurate child support helps your children in several ways, primarily because it ensures their financial needs are met. Here are some other reasons why accurate overnight numbers help you, the other parent and your children:
• It provides a fair way to determine your child support amounts
• It guarantees the child support amount reflects each parent’s responsibilities
• It allows for modifications if your actual time and scheduled time are different
• It is compliant with Utah law
Your financial obligations to your children don’t end with divorce, so whether you are paying or receiving child support, you owe it to your children to pay or receive the proper amount.
Utah parenting time percentages only count overnight visits. Child visitation during the day or into the evening does not affect child support amounts.
When a Utah family court awards sole custody to the residential parent, the children will spend fewer than 110 overnights with the nonresidential parent. The number of overnights will have no impact on child support.
When a Utah family court awards joint custody, the children spend at least 111 overnights and probably more outside the primary residence.
As the scheduled overnights increase with the nonresidential parent, the child support amount slowly lowers.
Most people use estimate to calculate overnights, which can lead to inaccurate numbers in the Utah child support formula, resulting in incorrect child support amounts.
What Does Child Support Cover?
Parents have not only a moral obligation to support their children, but also a legal one that is enforced by an important series of Utah laws. Child support Utah laws are based on the core idea that children are entitled to benefit from both parents regardless of whether those parents live together or not or even whether they are/were married or not. The exception to this is that, in Utah, stepparents have no legal obligation to support their ex-partners children during or after marriage (but all biological parents are). These laws encourage parents to work together in order to provide the best child support services that are in the interest of their children.
The Reality of Calculating Child Support
When calculating Child Support, a very common misconception arises when couples think that the amount of child support that is paid can be manipulated or changed by changing the type of custody (from “sole custody” to “joint custody”). Another common misconception is that child support will change depending on the amount of days the child spends with each of the parents in a Joint Physical Custodial relationship. In neither case is Child Support changed. There is only one factor that will change the amount of child support paid and that is income of the parents.
Let’s define some terms to make this easier to understand.
1. Fathers and Mothers Monthly Gross Income: This is monthly gross income the father and Mother makes. This can be calculated by past performance using documents such as tax return or pay stubs. In the event that no documentation is available then the amount can be calculated on what the reasonable ability of the parent has to earn income. The following example shows a father’s income of 3500.00 and a mother’s income of 2500.00 for a total income of 6000.00.
2. Total Combined Child Support: After combining both parents income a calculation is completed using tables set by the state to determine the “Total Child Support” amount. This is the amount that the Law says you must use as support for your children. This amount is the same whether you agree to a sole custodial arrangement or a joint physical custodial arrangement. In this example the calculation came to 1400.00
3. Mothers and Fathers Separate Portion of Child Support: Of the Total Child Support amount, each parent is responsible for contributing their portion. The amount each parent pays is directly proportional to the amount of income that parent makes. In this example the father makes 59% of the total combined income and is required to pay 59% of the Total Child Support or 815.00. The mother makes 41% of the total combined income and is required to pay 41% of the Total Child Support or 582.00.
4. Direct vs. Indirect payment of Child Support: This is where most couples misunderstand how child support works. There are two ways your children will receive support for their needs from Mom and Dad. The first way is what we call Indirect Support. This is when a parent incurs an expense for basic needs of the child. This would include providing shelter in the form of a house payment or rent, gas for transportation, the purchase of food and clothing, haircuts and all other needs the child might have. The second way a child will receive support is what we call Direct Support. This is when a parent makes a direct cash payment to the other parent to help pay for all of the expenses for the child. This is an example of indirect child support expenses that might be incurred totaling $1400.00
Most of the time both parents will pay at least a portion of Indirect Support. How much an individual parent will pay in Indirect Support, will depend on the Custodial Arrangement or Parenting Plan. Only one parent will be required to pay Direct Support, once again depending on the custodial arrangement.
The more time a child spends with one parent the more Indirect Expenses will be incurred. This means more food, higher utility bills, etc. This explains why in a Sole Custody arrangement with the child spending more time with the physical custodial parent, the amount paid in Direct Support from the non-custodial parent would be more than in a Joint Physical Custody arrangement because both parents in Sharing Joint Physical Custody are also sharing more of the Indirect Expenses. Remember, the Total Child Support remains the same no matter what the custodial arrangement is or how many days the child’s spends with either parent.
To further illustrate we will compare the above family that has a sole custody arrangement and the same family with a joint physical custody arrangement.
Sole Custody Example:
Lets use the previous example. This mother and father have a combined income of 6000.00 with the father making 3500.00 and the mother making 2500.00. There are 3 kids and both parents have agreed to a sole custody arrangement with the mother. Both parents will be required to pay child support. The mother will be required to pay 582.00 in child support and the father will pay 812.00 (remember this was calculated using their incomes).
Because the children will be spending most of the time with mom, naturally she will be incurring most of the day-to-day indirect expenses. Moms grocery bill will be higher, her utilities will be higher, her auto expenses will be higher even her housing expenses will be higher. It is easy to see how her 582.00 portion of child support will be eaten up quite quickly. This is when the direct support from Dad will be needed to help. Once again this is paid directly from Dad to Mom and Mom then applies that money in the areas it is needed.
This same scenario can be used if we reverse the sole custody arrangement but instead Dad is the custodial parent. Dad would now use his portion of the child support of 812.00 for the indirect expenses, and mom would pay 582.00 in direct support directly to dad.
Joint Physical Custody
Now lets assume that both parents agree that a joint custody arrangement will be the best for the children and that the children will spend 182 days with mom in a year and 183 days with dad. Now in this case as opposed to sole custody, dad is going to have the kids half of the year which means that his indirect expenses for the kids will go up and moms will go down compared to if she had sole custody.
In this case using the joint income of 6000.00 (notice we still have a combined child support obligation of 1400.00-it has not changed from sole custody to joint custody) with mom earning 2500.00 per month and dad earning 3500.00 the amount of direct support will change. Who will pay the direct support (mom or dad) once again depends on the amount of days the kids spend with each parent and the amount of income. In this particular case, dad would be paying about 100.00 to mom.
The bottom line is the same amount of total child support is paid from each parent no matter what type custody arrangement is chosen or how many days the children spend with either parent.
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