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Child Support 101

The issue of support, who gets it, how much they get, and for how long is a constant theme in most of the family law cases our office handles. That being said, we've provided you some basic information to consider regarding child support.

1. Every parent is expected to support their children, either by providing for the primary care of the children or by paying child support in accordance with both parents' incomes and the Uniform Child Support Guidelines.

2. An award of shared physical care does not generally mean neither parent is ordered to pay support. The only way this typically occurs is if the incomes of the parents are so close that the resulting support would be very minimal (i.e., less than $50 for one child).

3. Not all deductions from your income are treated the same. You are allowed to deduct your actual income tax liability for Federal and State income taxes and for FICA; certain other deductions such as union dues, daycare expenses for a custodial parent, and health care expenses for children are also allowed. Other deductions such as deductions for utility or mortgage payments, car payments, or 401k deductions are not allowed.

4. "Income" is generally defined as all income a parent can reasonably expect to receive. This means that under certain circumstances, over-time, bonuses, and other forms of income can be counted. Certain forms of non-monetary compensation, such a car allowances may also be considered income. Self-employed individuals or persons who have variable rates of compensation (e.g., fully commissioned sales people) generally use an average of their income over the last 3, 5, or 7 years.

5. Once appropriate deductions have been accounted for, child support is calculated as a percentage of the paying parent's "net income" based on a formula. While the exact number will vary, as a general rule a parent will pay about 22.5% of their net income for one child; 30% for 2 children; 35% for 3 and 40% for 4 children.

6. A parent who receives more than 128 overnights a year with their children may be entitled to a reduction in their child support payments; however the visitation schedules seen in most Decrees will not qualify for this deduction.

7. For employed persons child support is generally withheld from their paycheck, much like taxes; if a person changes employment they are expected to notify their new employer of their support obligation. Self-employed individuals generally pay their own support through the Clerk of Court.

8. If a person suffers a change in income that would cause their child support to change by at least 10%, up or down, they may be entitled to adjust their support accordingly.

9. A parent who has no or minimal income may be required to pay a minimal amount of support.

10. Generally the court prefers to use actual earnings to determine what a person's income is; the use of "earning capacity" is only invoked where the use of actual earning would cause a substantial injustice to the children, paying parent, or receiving parent.

11. Notwithstanding #9, a parent who intentionally reduces their income in an effort to avoid paying child support may be required to pay support based on their historical earning capacity as opposed to their actual earning. In other words, a parent who normally earns $70,000 a year as a Professor who on the eve of his divorce quits his job and becomes a poet, earning nothing, may have their child support set acceding to their earning capacity, not their actual income.

12. A parent who intentionally and without "good cause" fails to pay their support can be held in contempt of court and jailed. "Good cause" is very narrowly interpreted and would not include failing to pay because of a belief that the other parent is violating the Decree. A parent who doesn't pay child support and owes back-support will encounter other difficulties as well, for example, not being allowed a passport.

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