Calculating Child Support Payments
To minimize the hassle of getting a court-ordered financial obligation in place, you should learn about the law and procedures in your locality as it applies to your situation. Every local court has their method, forms and procedures. Court employees cannot give legal advice because they are not licensed legal professionals.
Doing It Yourself
Parents who would like to stipulate to particular terms of child support can fill out a stipulation and file the official form with the court for the judge's review and signature. Don;t skip this step, even if your ex is cooperative and truly interested in the child's welfare. Informal agreements mean nothing. Without a signed court-ordered financial obligation in place, you have no legal tool to enforce payment. Keeping everything in writing, including payments made or received, will help if either parent decides to request an adjustment in the amount of child support paid.
To figure out the size of your check, most states offer child support worksheets designed to provide an approximate child support obligation an individual might be expected to pay. They are keyed to the income guidelines established by the state. The child support guidelines are not a guarantee of actual obligation. Most states have plenty of useful information on their website; some have child support calculators. If you want a more precise calculation, there are computer software programs of varying price ranges which allow you to plug in numbers to get a clearer idea of the amount you will be paying.
Collecting in Cases of Non-Payment
If you are having problems getting your ex-spouse to pay as ordered, the best solution is to file a form that requests withholding a certain amount from his or her paycheck. It is the best approach when the paying spouse has a regular job and income. Under the Consumer Protection Credit Act, the maximum amount that can be withheld ranges from 50% of a worker's disposable earnings, if the worker is supporting another spouse or child, or up to 60% if the worker is not. An additional 5% may be garnished for support payments more than 12 weeks in arrears. Contact your state District Attorney's office family law section for more information on wage garnishment or child support agency.
If you want to change your child support, be prepared to give the judge some reasons and a detailed financial statement. When a court looks at a motion to increase or reduce child support, it looks at how conditions have changed since the entry of the last order for support. It will consider the new circumstances and make appropriate adjustments. Examples that trigger modification are health care issues, job loss or reduction, school expenses, and new children.
In crafting your own agreement with the other parent, be sure your agreement includes:
- A clause (COLA) for automatic increases in the support to keep up with inflation
- How the support will be paid;
- A late payment penalty;
- An irrevocable life insurance policy by the paying parent naming the child as beneficiary;
- A security deposit in the case of missed payment(s).
When negotiating for child support, keep in mind the dollar differences in your negotiations. You can agree on some issues and leave the rest of the dispute to the judge hearing the matter. If you are not far apart, go back to the drawing board to work out the issues. Think about what you might gain (or lose) if you were to proceed to a legal hearing, which will cost you in attorney fees, emotional stress, and time lost from work for court appearances. It is cost effective to work things out. That's not usually true of court.
If you are looking for some knowledgeable sources to help you craft a child support arrangement or help you make informed decisions, short of hiring an attorney, there are self-help guidebooks, paralegals and law librarians that are excellent sources of information. Given the government's compelling interest in child and support, most states have free or low-cost self-help clinics that will help you handle the matter.
Child support is not tax deductible by the paying spouse or taxable to the recipient. As a non-custodial parent, you may be able to partially claim your child as a dependent on your tax returns. The best bet is to check with a tax advisor on how claiming your child as a dependent may serve to off-set the tax break you won?t otherwise receive with child support.
Ex-spouses decide to increase the alimony payments to cover child support costs. This lump-sum payment will most likely become entirely tax deductible to the payer. Consult with an experienced family lawyer who can tell you whether or not your state allows combined payments without jeopardizing the tax benefits of spousal support payments.
Issues at Stake
Child support basically turns on two issues: How much to pay and the ability to pay. If you are the parent who will be paying child support, in documenting your financial income you will want to minimize your income and maximize your expenses. Ordinarily, the greater your income and assets, the greater your child support payment. While you must report your income honestly to the court, you might want to ask a knowledgeable financial adviser or a family law attorney on ways to minimize the amount you report.
The opposite is true if you are to receive child support payments. You want to show a very small or insignificant amount of income and a standard of living lower than what the guideline provides. As above, you must document your figures or give information regarding your spouse?s source(s) of income.
A steady flow of child support payments is vital. If you are the recipient, consider using your state's child support agency for collecting the support. The agency will bill parents, collect, process and track payments, enforce the court orders, and work with other states to enforce orders. The advantage is that you no longer have to deal directly with the other parent or file your own motions in court to seek enforcement actions. The downside is the agency will most likely charge a nominal fee for their services.