When embroiled in a divorce involving children, there is but one thing that you can count on – someone will be paying child support absent a private agreement between parties or a shared-custody situation where both parents make close to equal incomes. Believe it or not, even in some of those cases there are exceptions.
Unfortunately, the reality of this economic situation is that a broken family has to establish two households where there formerly existed one. Taking child support out of that equation for the moment – it means both parties and the children will be living with fewer resources and greater expenses. This is the case even when cutbacks are undertaken. The economic standards of the family is almost always lowered. When your divorce and custody situation is rife with high-conflict drama, those limited resources are further negatively affected and rather quickly.
Once the court room becomes the battleground for child custody and child support matters – the court is left in charge of making the decisions centered around allocating the limited resources between the two households, like it or not. They will dig deep into your financial history and they will stay there for a long time to come.
As lives carry on, there are innumerable circumstances whereby child support orders need to be modified to meet the demands of a given situation. The changing needs of the children come as they grow: clothing, food, shelter and associated items, schooling, religion, and many other activities have an impact. Employment circumstances can change for one or both parents, both positively and negatively, and necessitate a review and modification of the child support order. One may have to deal with child support enforcement when a mother or father willfully fail to pay child support. In extreme cases, questions surrounding the paternity of children come into the mix and can have devastating financial effects – primarily on fathers (or non-fathers as it were).
Situations such as these and many more, combined with the typical acrimonious divorce, is what keeps the divorce and family court machine overflowing with families and, of course, the money that they so desperately need to move on with their lives in some meaningful capacity.
It is generally understood that both parents have a legal duty and responsibility to support their children according to their ability to do so. While many would question the methods to the madness of determining just what “their ability to do so” means and whether or not those calculations truly reflect the reality of one’s economic ability, doesn’t change the reality that someone is going to pay.
Most states have child support guidelines in place which provide a formula for calculating child support based on a proportion of each parent’s gross income. Still others simply impose a flat percentage of the obligor’s income based upon the number of children involved. These guidelines are applied unless one party can demonstrate that application of the state guidelines would be unfair, unjust, or otherwise inappropriate in their particular case. Some guidelines have exceptions written into them for “extraordinary expenses” that may be relevant for consideration by the courts. Other exceptions may be in place for “higher income” situations.
Child support payments are generally for the ordinary expenses of food, shelter, clothing, educational, and medical needs for the children only. The areas where the courts place primary consideration will include but are not necessarily limited to:
- The ability of the non-custodial parent to pay based upon income from “all” sources.
- The earning capacity of the custodial parent (if voluntarily unemployed or underemployed).
- The needs of the children, particularly if there are extraordinary medical issues/expenses or developmental issues as examples.
- Other responsibilities of the obligor, for example: child support payments to other children, or the obligor has new children from a new relationship.
In any event, like most other laws and legislation, the language of many child support statutes and their exceptions can be extremely confusing and confounding. Oh, and maddening. Whether you are represented by an attorney or not, the investment in time to study the statutes is in your best interests. The more you understand about your own situation in terms of the legalities of it all, the more time and money you can save when consulting with your attorney, both in court and outside of court.
It is our desire and our mission to assist in increasing your understanding and minimizing the costs associated with your situation.