If I Have Joint Custody, Do I Still Have To Pay Child Support?

Child Custody Law

Utah child support is based on the number of overnight visits. 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.

Do I Pay Utah Child Support when We Share 50/50 Custody?

When parents share 50/50 custody, they assume there won’t be any child support. This makes sense because you figure that if you share everything equally, there’s no need to pay child support. Only problem is that’s not how it works in real life.

Child support doesn’t belong to a parent. Instead it belongs to the child. This means neither parent can negotiate away child support, nor everyone’s bound by Utah’s child support guidelines.

How Utah Child Support Works at 50/50 Custody

Child support is straightforward. The more parent-time one parent has in relation to the other (i.e., the farther you are from 50/50 custody), the more child support will be paid. On the flip side, the closer you get to 50/50 custody, the less child support will be paid. Once you get to 50/50 custody, child support usually becomes pretty minimal, but there will be something, unless both parents make the same amount.

Here’s an example of what I’m mean: Husband and Wife have 1 child. Husband makes $6,000 gross per month. Wife makes $3500 gross per month. If they shared 50/50 custody, Husband would pay $141 per month in child support.
(Note: let’s assume Wife had primary custody, instead of 50/50 custody. If that were the case, Husband would pay $631 per month in child support. Pretty substantial difference.)

So, just because you share 50/50 custody doesn’t mean you won’t pay child support. You very likely will, unless incomes are the same.

Why do fathers still have to pay child support despite having joint custody?

In Utah, it could be said that child support is intended to ensure that the lifestyle to which the children were accustomed when they lived with both parents is preserved (as much as possible) once the children go back and forth between both parents’ homes. So if Dad earns 3x what Mom does, and Mom has the children with her about 75% of the year, Mom can’t possibly maintain the same standard of living as Dad does. So the court orders Dad to pay Mom money each month for her to spend on the children roughly equivalent to the amount Dad would spend on them. The law isn’t perfect, but you get the idea. So where Dad pays Mom $1,500 per month for two kids who spend 75% of their time with Mom, it makes sense that Dad would pay less child support if he were to have the kids with him 50% of the time. Remember: Dad out-earns Mom by 3:1. Just because he has the kids with him half the time does not mean Mom earns as much money as Dad does, so Dad still has to pay Mom some money (albeit less) to ensure that the kids’ standard of living can be more or less equal at both parents’ homes when the kids are there. Here’s how it works using Utah’s child support formula:

Assume that:

Mom and Dad have 2 kids.

Dad grosses (Utah uses gross income to calculate child support) $3,800 per month.

Mom grosses $1,257 per month.

This is roughly a 3:1 ratio.

If Mom had sole custody of the kids, and Dad saw them every other weekend, a few hours mid-week, and then during some holidays and part of the summer, Dad’s child support obligation would be $893 per month.

But if Mom and Dad had joint custody on an equal time-sharing basis, Dad’s child support obligation would be between $288 and $309 per month (depending upon which parent has the kids 182 or 183 days out of the year). So Dad’s obligation is now lower, but Dad still has a child support obligation to Mom. And now you know why.

Can You Divorce and Not Pay Child Support?

Utah does not allow you to waive child support. The child support is for the child and therefore, not for the parents to decide if you can or cannot pay. It is best for a child to receive financial support from both parents. If you completed a divorce without the help of a court or mediation, you may have an arrangement worked out with your ex where you do not pay child support but only if your incomes are comparable and you share 50/50 custody. Or child support is lower and you choose to waive it based on one of the four factors required in Utah. But such arrangements would be extremely unusual. For the most part, if you’re getting divorced, and you have children, and you are the higher earner, you should plan on paying child support.

How Can I Avoid Child Support?

Truthfully, the best way to get out of child support is to not have children. The other way you can get out of child support is if you petition the court to voluntarily terminate your parental rights. However, such petitions are rarely granted and they are never granted on the sole purpose of avoiding your financial obligations. If your ex has remarried and their new spouse would like to adopt your child, a judge may grant your petition to terminate rights. But if nobody wants to adopt your child in your place, you will likely be unable to terminate your rights. Some people decide to quit their jobs in order to prevent their child from getting financial support. However, since child support is based on earning potential, not actual income, a parent will still have to pay child support even if they’re voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily reducing their income. Aside from refraining from procreation, there’s no way to prevent being legally obligated to financially support your own child.

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Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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