Child support can be one of the most miscalculated topics (figuratively, literally) within the family law/divorce experience. Not how to arrive at an individual’s recompense, depending on the particulars of a couple’s situation, but on what details actually factor into the equation. With that in mind, this blog endeavors not only to make you aware of the new guidelines—as of September 1, 2019—but to elucidate the rationale behind what the dollars awarded should cover.
First, the cut and dry:
Beginning September 1, 2019, the maximum guideline amount is scheduled for an adjustment and increase up to $9,200 (previously $8,550.00). The chart below provides a breakdown of what the new maximum guideline percentages and obligations will be under the increased cap:
|# of Children||Percentage||Amount|
So, the percentages have not changed: the “obligor” (the person paying the child support) pays the “obligee” (the person receiving child support payments) 20% of their net monthly income, for instance, if they have one child. (Refer to chart for percentages regarding two or more kids.)
What about this is so scandalous and/or confusing? It’s right there in a chart! What’s to dispute? It goes something like this. OBLIGOR: I already pay child support, why is he/she bugging me to pay for half of the summer camps or an Algebra tutor?
There is a misconception about what child support is—as in ‘what does it cover?—and what is isn’t. When child support is contemplated, the required payment is meant to cover living essentials (think “Maslow’s hierarchy of need” here—food/water/clothing/shelter). In other words: food, mortgage, gas, utilities, shoes, clothes, back to school items.
But that begs the question: is band camp really necessary? Does child A really need cheerleading camp? What about that mission trip? Movies with friends on the weekends? Homecoming? Pretzel at the ballgame? You see how this gets complicated. Actually, from what I usually observe, it’s pretty simple: the obligor says uh “no, that’s not a need!” and the obligee says “you bet it is!” What’s complicated is coming to a resolution.
Something I like to tell my clients as we begin this process is to remember who they are divorcing. They are not, hopefully, blowing off their children because it didn’t end up happily ever after with their now previous spouse and other parent to their children. Children are not typically fans of divorce, and they are likely already hurting plenty at the dissolution of their family. To cut off baseball fees, unless it’s a TRUE hardship for a spouse to pay for half, is in my opinion, akin to punishing the child.
Divorce can make people angry and hurt and rightfully so. But depriving your children of activities they enjoy or experiences they have engaged in previously to meet your new bottom line—again unless it is a REAL burden given your new financial situation—is short-sighted and will more times than not end up backfiring. Our memories can be long; this definitely includes children.
That said, obligees should take heed of this message as well—put yourself in the shoes of the obligor for a minute and get honest with yourself. You are not off the hook for making sure that the provided support is actually allocated to the expenses covering the needs, wants, and dreams of your kids first. This doesn’t mean you can’t go out to dinner, buy new clothes for work, or whatever.
But we all know that there is a certain psychology to money from which we are all operating, at least in part, so be conscious about this truth. Additionally, the willingness of the obligor to go above and beyond the Court order regarding support will obviously happen more often when there is a level of trust between exes and a developed history and pattern of putting the kids first financially.
I like to break it down even further. So more specifically, what do I need to remember if I am the one RECEIVING child support?
- Child support is enforceable by contempt;
- Child support can be taken directly from wages and is paid to you by the state, not your ex;
- Those expenses above the guideline child support amount is something you should negotiate DURING the divorce process—bring up the “extras” and try to get them written down in your agreement as additional contractual obligations; be specific and try not to leave wiggle room – “half of summer camp expenses at Pine Lake Summer Camp each year through summer of 2025, including but not limited to fees, meals, travel, equipment, gear, etc.” or “half of all soccer expenses, including equipment, team fees, coach fees, travel fees, private goalkeeping lessons, and tournament fees”; don’t give up to get through faster;
- Child support contemplates children of all ages, but we often forget (or don’t want to think about) how quickly littles get BIG. You may not want to think about college while your son is five, but when he’s a senior, you’ll be oh so very glad you got it down in writing. *Remember, after a child turns eighteen or graduates high school—whichever comes first, the obligor is no longer responsible for child support payments (even if the child in question got into Yale and will receive no financial aid). That said, BOTH PARENTS INCOMES are taken into account when colleges decide what financial aid looks like for your student.
What about if I am the one PAYING child support?
- If you don’t pay, you can go to jail. The court has zero-tolerance. They garnish wages. No joke. If you did not pay your child support and you drive your car to court for your enforcement hearing, be ready to answer the judge when they ask why you did not sell your car to cover your support obligation.
- Child support is modifiable in the event that you have a new, lower-income after the original amount was stated;
- Be cautious about horse-trading a lower monthly child support payment in exchange for your agreement to pay for summer camps and extracurricular expenses – unlike statutory child support obligations that are modifiable, these additional agreements create contractual obligations that don’t much care about you losing your job, or downsizing, or an emergency medical situation that results in three months in the hospital and six-figure medical bills;
- You are not legally obligated to pay for more than what is specifically set forth in your decree, even if your child or your ex believe such “extra” expenses are absolutely necessary.
When talking child support, no matter who you are, if you’re getting a divorce, it is wise to use the long lens. Do not put off for later what might be extremely painful to decide today but will make your future infinitely easier—actually that advice goes for all of us!
To plug in your net income and number of children to figure your child support payment, use the following link:
About the Author
Bryce Hopson is an associate attorney at Hance Law Group. Bryce excels in breaking down complicated legal issues and examining them with his clients in a clear, comprehensible, and concise manner, in matters such as property division, child custody, and pre-marital agreements.