Child support must be determined for parties with minor children who are divorcing, legally separating, or who have children together, have never been married, and are seeking parenting orders through a Petition for an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities. Child Support can be calculated using software that is available on-line by inputting requested information. On its face, calculating child support would appear to be a simple and straightforward exercise. However, there may be ambiguity in knowing what the correct inputs are at virtually every step of the calculation program.
The first two inputs are the gross monthly income of each parent. That is, what each parent makes before taxes and withholdings are subtracted from the amount that each party takes home in a paycheck each month. Sound simple? Not all parents are “employees” who receive paychecks, which are generally the source of information for what is earned and what is withheld in the form of taxes, employer-provided health insurance premiums, contributions to retirement programs, etc. Not all employers issue paychecks on the same time frames, nor do pay periods necessarily track with the first and last days of each month. Some employers pay weekly (52 times per year), some bi-weekly (26 times per year), others two times per month (24 times per year), and still others only monthly (12 times per year). Not all paychecks reflect the same number of hours worked from one pay period to the next and some paychecks may include bonus pay or other extraordinary compensation so that what appears on one paystub is not necessarily indicative of what gross monthly income is over the course of a full year.
People who are not employees, but rather own their own businesses have latitude to run expenses through their businesses that may create issues about whether those expenses are actually business expenses, or whether they are actually personal expenses that decrease their personal monthly living expenses. The expenses of owning, maintaining, registering, licensing, and operating a vehicle, for instance, or health club memberships, may be run through a business, resulting in a decrease of the costs a party has to pay for personally. Obviously there can be difficulty in quantifying the amount of personal expenses that are run through a party’s business, and therefore room for argument about what is appropriately deemed a business expense to be subtracted from gross revenue, versus what is actually a personal expense, which should be added back in as in-kind income for purposes of determining a party’s monthly gross income for child support purposes.
If child support is being calculated for more than one child, and all children adhere to the same parenting time schedule, the number of overnights for each parent with each child will be the same. But if parties have more than one child, and those children are on different parenting time schedules, different rules apply for calculating the appropriate amount of support. If a party has children from a prior relationship, that too may affect the child support calculation. Agreeing on the number of overnights that children spend in each party’s home can trigger difficult discussions, since the number of overnights at each party’s home affects the amount of child support calculated.
Not all parties agree on the expenses they want calculated on the face of child support worksheets. If parents enroll their children in private schools, or summer camps, or expensive sports, or if a child has chronic health issues, the attendant expenses may be factored into the child support calculation, or be paid outside of child support. When expenses are agreed upon, known, and payable over the course of an academic or calendar year, parties can agree to paying 1/12th of the annual amount as part of child support on a monthly basis. But if expenses are incurred once or twice a year and need to be paid in short order, it may not make sense to factor such expenses onto the face of the child support worksheet, but rather reach agreements about the manner in which such expenses will be paid for when and as such expenses arise.
Calculating child support is not a “once and for all” exercise. Parental income and child activity expenses should be reviewed regularly, and not less than annually. Changes that precipitate a greater than 10% difference in the amount of the child support calculation are deemed significant enough for a judge to modify an existing court order. Alternatively, parents can agree to re-calculate child support annually, and file a stipulation to an amended child support amount, asking the court to adopt it as a modified child support order. Modifications should also be requested and made new court orders as children in multi-children families reach emancipation.