Last Updated on August 11, 2023 @ 8:30 am
Every state has its own requirements and formula for determining the amount of child support that one parent should be paying to the other parent. Typically, but not in all states, the parent that must pay support is referred to as the “non-custodial parent.” This would be the parent that has less parenting time with the child than the other parent. In the vast majority of states, the formulas are incredibly complex and many attorneys use specially designed software that costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year to properly calculate child support. Expert child support attorneys provide free consultations to people struggling to understand their states child support laws.
How Much Child Support Should You Be Paying?
This is the million-dollar question every parent that owes a duty to pay child support asks. Most states follow some type of calculation known as “income shares” to determine the amount of child support that should be paid, if any at all. The amount that gets calculated through a complex formula is typically referred to as a ‘guideline support’ amount. The state-specific factors that most courts may consider are: the income of both parents; deductions such as alimony or child support for a different child; and childcare, healthcare, and unique expenses. There is also the option of a court determining support entirely outside of the guideline child support formula through a process of “determining the needs of the child,” although this method is exceedingly rare and normally only applies for certain circumstances like a child with special needs or a child that has some type of substantial income.
Keep in mind that a few states have different methods, such as the “Melson Formula” and “Percentage of Net Income” formula for calculating child support. The Melson Formula takes into account each parent having enough money to meet their basic needs as well, whereas the Income Shares method and Net Income method do not. Only a few states follow the Melson formula, so making an argument that you can’t pay your rent because you are paying too much support will not be a valid excuse in virtually every case outside of those few states.
Most guideline support amount calculations also attempt to account for the amount of time spent with each parent, increasing the child support amount when a non-custodial parent does not spend much time with his or her child. In some states, the amount of child support does not change until you hit a certain percentage of overnights with a child (such as greater than 40%, which is 146-nights or more). This is especially true in most states that follow either the Income Shares formula or the Melson formula. Typically, Net Income formula states do not look at overnights as a reason to increase or decrease support unless the parenting time is equal (50/50). Therefore, a situation involving sole custody and limited visitation / parenting time is likely to result in a larger amount of child support than one featuring extensive visitation or shared custody in certain states.
Does the State Make Mistakes Calculating Support?
Yes, quite often, actually. Non-custodial parents should be aware of their child support rights and should be prepared to enforce them if the amount of support awarded seems too high. Many people presume that their state child support guidelines provide for the correct amount of financial support. However, it may be possible to obtain a lower or higher amount of child support. Here’s what you have to remember: when the State handles a child support case, that case is probably one out of a million that they have. The departments that handle the accounting (recording payments made, amounts owed, etc.) are often overworked and pay little attention to each individual case. Because of this, mistakes happen. And they happen quite often.
Child Support Modification
Child support orders can be modified on a temporary or permanent basis. If the non-custodial parent loses a job or develops a temporary medical condition that affects earnings ability, support may be temporarily lowered. If this adult incurs a disability or is forced to take a lesser-paying job, a permanent adjustment may be in order. Technically, child support amounts are never “permanent”, even though they are referred to as “permanent” by lawyers and judges when a case is being finalized. Child support orders can be modified whenever a substantial change in circumstances arises. This does NOT mean that if you make $20/hour and work 40-hours a week and you change jobs and now earn $19.50/hour support can be modified. Typically, the amount of change needs to be somewhat substantial – like losing a job and/or having a new job that you earn $15/hour. A change in support of $10-$20/month would likely not be nearly substantial enough to justify the cost of hiring a lawyer or enough for a judge to recalculate support.
Can Child Support Be Lowered?
Absolutely, child support orders can be lowered and reduced in a variety of ways. Most of the time that child support is lowered is because the parent that has to pay support shows the court that a “substantial change in circumstances” has arisen since the last time a child support court order was entered. This is typically because of the loss of a job, having overtime eliminated from their position, the parents changing the parenting schedule to allow for more overnights to the parent paying support, or having another child with a different person. Non-custodial parents attempting to lower child support payments must prove these “changed circumstances” to justify a reduction in child support, whether the guidelines be a specific percentage of a non-custodial parents net income, or are based on the needs of the child.
Oftentimes, a child support award might be determined on a year to date paycheck stub that makes it look like a parent is going to earn a lot more money over the year than they actually will earn. this happens when people work a lot of overtime at the beginning of the year or may have received a bonus. This can throw off the calculation because it increases the average amount of income per check, which likely won’t be correct by the end of the year. Simply using a child support calculator without an attorney will make getting this information explained to the court impossible. Other reasons why child support should possibly be lowered is when a parent has certain special circumstances, such as medical issues or a type of chronic illness. This ends up being a judges decision whether the calculation should be adjusted downward.
Other times, a court may award too much child support based on inaccurate documentation provided by the custodial parent. Unfortunately, some primary caregivers are not honest about their income and assets when attempting to get child support. A non-custodial parent should obtain representation from an expert child support lawyer to protect their rights. By proving that income or savings is being hidden, or that a non-custodial parent has been paying money to the parent outside of the court order (or paying for certain expenses like school, extracurricular activities, or medical bills) he or she may be able to decrease the child support award. One thing a non-custodial parent should never do is make a habit of paying cash to the other parent. If you go to court and claim that you paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars in cash to the other parent and that parent lies, the judge will act as though it never happened – use a check, money order, bank transfer, and/or get a receipt and acknowledgement from the other parent to protect yourself.
Can Child Support Be Increased?
Yes, child support can be increased. Whenever a substantial change in circumstances arises, child support can be modified. This means that it can be increased based on a number of factors and reasons. It may be that the custodial parent loses their job, or the non-custodial parent begins earning substantially more money than when the last child support order was entered. The non-custodial parent may have also lied about their income or withheld important and relevant financial information that has now come to light.
Child support might also be increased when the needs of a child have increased or other expenses begin to pop up, as often happens as children get older. This may include insurance, medical bills, childcare, extracurricular activity expenses, or a health issue that requires more money to care for a child. One way that makes it easier to monitor the other parents income to see if child support should be increased is to have the initial parenting plan and child support order require the non-custodial parent to turn over their tax documents each year. With the non-custodial parents tax documents (W-2’s, K-1’s, 1099’s, and filed tax returns) turned over every year, the parent that is owed support can run a preliminary calculation to see if the amount should increase based on the non-custodial parents income.
Child Support Help
A child support attorney can help a non-custodial parent determine whether the child support figure is too high or too low. If the calculation is off or if there is a substantial change in circumstances (or special circumstances exist), a child support attorney will build and present a case to modify and change the financial obligation on a temporary or permanent basis. This would be done by a family law attorney filing a motion known as a Petition to Modify Child Support. The Petition (Motion) would point out the changes that have arisen and ask for bot parties to provide proof of their current income, expenses, and certain assets to re-do the calculation based on the facts and circumstances of the individual case. The non-custodial parent will ordered to pay a fair amount of child support, but no more and no less than is required under the law. Learning your child support rights is as easy as connecting with an attorney that provides a free consultation (they all do here!).