Child support is an important issue for any divorcing couples with children. Parents need to know what to expect so they may plan for the future. Child support is money one parent pays the other to meet the needs of a child. Needs may include food, shelter, clothing, health insurance, medical costs, education and child care. The amount of child support is based on the income of both parents. The goal is to give children the same standard of living they would have if their parents were together.
How long does child support last?
In most circumstances, child support is paid until your child is age 21. Child support may be suspended or terminated if a child older than 16 becomes emancipated, marries or enters the military. Duty to pay child support does not stop automatically. Requests to stop making payments need to be submitted and approved by the same court that made the child support order.
What If Parents Have Joint Custody?
Joint custody is common if when both parents live locally. The effect of joint custody on child support depends on the nature of the joint custody arrangement. With joint legal custody, both parents share major decisions regarding the child. Joint legal custody may have no effect on child support. One parent still has primary custody of the child and handles payment of most of the child’s day-to-day expenses. The custodial parent’s expenses for the child have not been reduced by the joint custody arrangement. With joint physical custody, the child spends substantial time with each parent. If the parents have approximately equal incomes, it is possible neither parent will have to pay support to the other. The father and mother will pay the child’s day-to-day expenses when the child is in the respective homes. The parents, however, will need to coordinate payments on major expenses such as camp, school, clothing, and insurance. If there is a significant difference in the parents’ incomes, the parent with higher income probably will make payments to the other parent or pay more of the child’s expenses, but the amount paid might be less than the guideline amount because of the joint physical custody arrangement.
How much will child support be?
The basic formula for child support is based on both parents’ income per year and the number of children. If the parents’ combined income is $136,000 or less the court follows a simple formula: (Combined Parental Income) x (Child Support Percentage) = Basic Support Obligation
Child support percentages are:
• 17% of the combined parental income for one child,
• 25% of the combined parental income for two children,
• 29% of the combined parental income for three children,
• 31% of the combined parental income for four children, and
• no less than 35% of the combined parental income for five or more children.
Income for purposes of this calculation is gross income on the most recent federal income tax return, minus Medicare, FICA and NYC tax deductions.
Basic Support Example
One parent is the primary caregiver and makes $25,000. The other parent makes $100,000. They have one child. Total income is $125,000, which is multiplied the “child support percentage” of 17%.
$125,000 x .17 = $21,250 is the basic child support obligation.
The higher-earning parent would be responsible for 80% of that figure ($17,000) because their income ($100,000) makes up 80% of the combined parental income ($125,000). The other parent would be responsible to pay 20% ($4,250) of the child’s expenses. In theory, both parents could pay their share into a trust or separate account for the child. However, the court may presume (or the couple may agree) that the custodial parent is spending their share directly on the child’s expenses.
Additional Costs, Payments, or “Add Ons”
In addition to the basic child support obligation, additional payments to cover child care costs (if the custodial parent is working or in school), health care expenses, school, camp, or other major expenses may be required. These payments are prorated at the same percentage as the support obligation (using our example, 80% and 20%). The basic award may be increased to include a pro-rated share of child care expenses, if the custodial parent is working or in school. In addition, the court may increase the award to include a pro-rated share of educational expenses for the child.
If the combined income is more than $136,000, the court could use the same formula for all income or choose to set a “ceiling” for income to be applied to the formula. That ceiling could be much greater than $136,000 for very high-income couples. Alternatively, the court could use the formula for only the first $136,000 of combined income, and then decide how much (if any) additional to award by considering these factors:
• The financial resources of the custodial and non-custodial parent, and those of the child.
• The physical and emotional health of the child and his/her special needs and aptitudes.
• The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage or household not been dissolved.
• The tax consequences to the parties.
• The non-monetary contributions that the parents will make toward the care and well-being of the child.
• The educational needs of either parent.
• A determination that the gross income of one parent is substantially less than the other parent’s gross income.
• The needs of the children of the non-custodial parent for whom the non-custodial parent is providing support who are not subject to the instant action and whose support has not been deducted from income.
• Any other factors the court determines are relevant in each case.
Occasionally, the guideline support amount is unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is put in place, either parent can ask to adjust the amount of support. In that case, a court will review a long list of factors to either increase or decrease the amount of child support. These factors include:
• income of a new spouse, domestic partner or other adult(s) in the household
• child support from other relationships
• gifts, prizes, and other wealth
• extraordinary income of a child
• nonrecurring income – like a bonus or overtime pay
• taxes and debt
• the difference in the parents’ cost of living
• a disabled child’s special needs
• the time the child spends with each parent, and
• children from other relationships.
Enforcing Child Support Orders in Utah
A parent who fails to pay court-ordered child support is in violation of a court order. That means a parent who refuses to pay child support can have his or her wages garnished, tax refunds intercepted, and face other legal and financial penalties.
How to Increase Child Support Payments
One thing is certain – life is unpredictable. Even the well-thought out plans for child support may prove unsuccessful. So what happens when the child support amount you’ve been getting no longer covers your child’s basic needs? You go back to court. Once a child support order is issued, either parent may request that a court modify (change) the amount of support, either up or down. Although either parent can ask a court to modify child support, this article will focus on increasing child support payments.
Show a Substantial Change in Circumstances
Although the specific requirements vary from state to state, generally in order to increase (or decrease) child support payments, the requesting parent will have to prove that after the existing order was put in place, a substantial change in circumstances occurred, such as a change in the child’s needs, an increase in salary, or the involuntary loss of a job.
Some of the most common reasons for child support increases include:
• A substantial increase in the non-custodial parent’s (paying parent) income, usually 10% or more – courts consider it in the best interests of the child to live in reasonably equal circumstances when residing in either parent’s home.
• A substantial decrease in the custodial parent’s income, again, usually 10% or more. In a difficult economy, if a custodial parent involuntarily loses a job (through no fault of his or her own) the custodial parent may require a substantial increase in child support, at least temporarily.
• A substantial increase in the child’s needs, including medical expenses, educational expenses, age-related expenses, or cost-of-living increases.
Substantial changes like these should not be based on intentional actions by either parent. For example, if the custodial parent quits a job or takes a substantial pay cut voluntarily, that is generally not considered a qualified reason for increasing support payments from the other parent.
Make your Child Support Modification Official
It’s essential to get court approval for any child support modification. The parent who wants to change child support must go to court and get an order specifying the new amount. Otherwise, the original child support order will be the only official record of the amount owing. Even if you and your child’s other parent have entered into a verbal or written agreement between yourselves about modifying child support and have agreed to a new amount, you must go to court and ask a judge to approve your agreement and issue a new order reflecting your terms. While parents may agree to change child support and decide that a verbal agreement is sufficient, if their relationship deteriorates, the parent that accepted the changes requested by the other may renege on the agreement, and ask the court to invoke the original support order. In addition, courts won’t enforce verbal child support agreements. If the paying parent falls behind, and the custodial parent asks a judge to help collect support payments, the court will invoke the original support order. In most states, turning your agreement into a modified child support order may be as simple as filling out the proper forms and submitting them to the court for a small fee. If the requested change to support is in the child’s best interests and based on a substantial change in circumstances, the court will generally approve it without a hearing. If the parents can’t agree, they will have to argue their cases in court, which means incurring additional court costs and attorney’s fees.
Factors in Calculating Child Support
The calculation of child support depends on numerous factors. Perhaps the most important is how much money the parents earn.
• Income of Both Parents: The income of both parents is taken into consideration. Also, the amount a parent is able to earn is considered that is, if a doctor in his 40s is lying on the beach all day instead of working, she or he may still owe child support even with no income. A related factor is how much other income each parent receives. For example, parents may earn interest or other investment income. Income and needs of Custodial Parent: The parent that has custody of the parent requires more support since they have main custody of the child and will incur more expenses to take care of the child. If the custodial parent makes less money than the non-custodial parent, they will receive a much larger child custody payment to cover the expenses needed.
• Family structure: that is, how many children are involved. Obviously, more kids means more money (a truism every parent can attest to). There is the factor of how much time each parent spends with their children – in this case, more time spent with kids usually means less money owed to the other parent for child support.
• Age and status of the child: Depending on the state and the child support agreement, the child support may end at some point in the child’s life. Some states and agreements will allow the parents to cut off support when the child reaches the age of majority. Others will require that the children graduate from college or that the children become married before the support can be terminated.
• Child’s Standard of Living Before Divorce or Separation: The courts also look at the needs and standard of living for the child before the divorce. The courts main intent is to ensure that the child receives the same type of living after the divorce and the separation does not impact the child in a major way.
• The Parent’s Ability to Pay: The court ensures that the child support payments are fair and proportional to the parent’s income. If the paying parent cannot afford to pay the child support, the court allows the parent to modify the child support payment.
• Needs of the Child: The main factor that is determined is the need and expenses of the child to live a standard life. This includes the child’ health insurance, education expenses, day care, food, rent, and special needs. Note that step children are not counted in some states for purposes of child support as those states do not recognize the stepparents as being legal guardians for those children. If there is no legal obligation then there is no child support.
What Other Factors Are There In Determining Child Support?
This list is not exhaustive. Family law courts are designated “courts of equity,” which means they can and do take into consideration all relevant facts and circumstances in determining the most just and fair outcome of the case. They are charged primarily with looking out for the best interests of the child.
Other factors include:
• Tax filing status of each parent
• Support of children from other relationships
• Health insurances expenses
• Union dues
• Retirement contributions
• Traveling to visit kids
How Does the Court Determine the Child Support Payments?
The courts often require each parent to fill out a financial statement to provide a complete overview of the parents income and expense. Then the court looks at both parent’s income and determines the situations that each parent is in before making the decision on the child support payments. In the financial statement, each parent has a duty to provide all the detail of his or her monthly income and expenses. Once the court sets out the child support payments, it always takes into factor the pre-divorce standard of living and attempts to continue this standard of living for the child.
Do I Need An Attorney To Obtain or Modify Child Support?
Unless both parents agree on a child support amount, you will need to go into court to establish or modify child support. The court procedure for establishing or modifying child support can be very confusing, so it may be wise to consult with an experienced child support attorney to make sure your interests are protected.
How Long Child Support Lasts
Generally, the law requires that the person paying child support continues to make those payments until any of the following circumstances apply:
• Your child is no longer a minor (unless the child is still in high school or has special needs)
• Your child becomes active duty in the military (applies to most states, but not all; you will also have to file a motion with the court)
• Your parental rights are terminated through adoption or another legal process
• Your minor child is declared legally emancipated by a court (in which case the court has determined the child is able to be self-supporting)
Child Support Calculator Lawyer
When you need a Utah lawyer for child support issues, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506