I used to tell my clients that child support was a straight forward issue. Prior to the August 2013 Child Support Guidelines, I believed that it was. If one parent had primary custody of the child/ren then to determine income, simply input the data into the child support calculator and whatever the number was, would likely be the resulting child support obligation (of course sometimes there are issues related to what is the correct income for that calculation – which is really a separate issue). There was also, what attorney’s call, the dual calculation for when parents had shared custody of the child/ren.
However now, under the new 2013 child support guidelines, there are multiple ways in which support could be determined. Here is a list and break out of the possible methodologies.
1) Standard Calculation: When one parent has primary custody of the child/ren and where the non custodial parent has approximately 1/3 of the parenting time (important detail!). In this case we use the guidelines calculator and the result that appears at the bottom of the page is likely to be the correct result (assuming combined income is below $250,000).
2) Deviation from the Standard Calculation: Where the non-custodial parent has less than 1/3 of the parenting time, the court, in its discretion, may award a higher support order than the standard guidelines calculation. In such a case, the court must fill out the deviation form which considers other circumstances such as: extra-ordinary medical expenses, amount of time the non-custodial parent spends with the child/ren, if there is a gross disparity in income between the two households, and several other possible factors outlined on the form. *As a practice note, I have not actually seen a judge deviate yet but I have heard from other colleagues that these deviations are being made.*
3) The Dual Calculation: When the parents share time with the child/ren approximately 50/50. In this case, there are two calculations. The first is to run the standard guidelines calculator. Then we must swap the incomes (Payor as Recipient, Recipient as Payor). The second result is subtracted from the first to arrive at the support amount under the dual calculation.
4) The Hybrid Calculation: When the non-primary parent spends between 1/2 and 1/3 of the time with the child/ren. This is the most complex calculation. It requires taking the average between the standard calculation and the dual calculation (add the two results together and divide by 2).
5) When Children Live in Different Homes Calculation: When there are is at least one child primarily residing with each parent this new calculation is used. Run the standard guidelines calculation for each parent based on their situation (how many children live with them). The difference in the two calculations shall be paid to the person with the lower income. For this calculation, deductions for medical, etc, cannot be used.
6) When Combined Income is above $250,000. When the combined income is above $250,000 all of the above calculations go out the door. The new guidelines do not provide a comprehensive solution to this situation as they do for the above scenarios. This particular topic really requires its own extensive blog post or analysis. Every situation is completely different and the unique circumstances could help a skilled attorney suggest what a possible court order would look like. Right now there is no clear guidance. I have heard of and seen the court do a combination of alimony/ child support (which creates the question of which is calculated first – the results can be a lot different). I have also heard of and seen the court make a child support order that is above the calculated amount for any income above $250,000. These determinations have to be made on a case by case basis.
As you can see these are complex issues with no easy answers. In light of the new laws, it has become even more critical to discuss your situation with an experiences Family Law attorney.