In most cases, child support is calculated according to guidelines set up by the state legislature. When the Court orders a parent to pay child support in accordance with these guidelines, it is called "guideline support."
Computing Guideline Support
The exact formula is complicated but you can estimate guideline support as follows:
Net Resources = Monthly Gross Income less Federal Income taxes (single, one deduction) less Union Dues less Medicare and Social Security Taxes less Insurance premiums paid for children
|Number of Children||Support Factor|
Guideline Child Support = Net Resources X Support Factor
How Long is Child Support Paid?
Child support is paid as long as the minor child is under the age of 18 or still in high school, whichever is longer. If the child dies, gets married, joins the armed services, or begins to live on his or her own as an emancipated minor, child support is no longer payable.
If the spouse that is receiving child support (the OBLIGEE) dies, child support is still paid by the other parent (the OBLIGOR). If the obligor parent (the parent paying child support) dies while child support is still payable, your divorce decree controls whether the obligor's estate pays child support or not. A well-drafted decree will specify that child support is an obligation of the obligor's estate.
Child support can be paid for a longer period of time if the child is handicapped and needs support for a longer period. The parents can also agree that child support will be paid for a longer time, even without a court order, but agreed child support is enforced by the Court differently.
Step Down Provisions
If you have more than one child, the amount of child support will change over time. For example, if you have two children, the obligor parent will most likely pay 25% of his or her net resources as child support. When the first child graduates from high school (or child support is no longer payable for that child for another reason), the obligor parent would start paying 20% of his or her net resources as child support.
Child Support Above and Below Guidelines
If a child's provable needs are greater than can be met by guideline support, the child may be entitled to greater than guideline support. Examples of circumstances that might result in provable needs being greater than guideline support are special healthcare or educational needs of a child.
Some parents agree to a possession and access order that either splits the children between the two parents (e.g. son lives with dad, daughter lives with mom) or provides for almost equal time between the two parents on a week-on/week-off basis. In these situations, the parents can agree that each would pay guideline support for one child to the other parent, with the net actually being paid as cash support.
For example, suppose mom has net resources of $5,000/month, dad has net resources of $4,000/month, and that they have two children. If guideline support was appropriate, mom would have a support obligation of $1,000/month while dad's would be $800/month. The difference is $200/month, so mom (the higher wage earner) would pay dad child support of $200/month.
How Is Child Support Collected?
When the Court orders child support, it will also sign a wage-withholding order. The wage withholding order can be filed with the obligor's employer so that child support is directly deducted from the obligor's paycheck. Sometimes divorcing spouses agree that the wage withholding order will not be sent to the obligor's employer UNLESS and until the obligor gets behind on his or her child support payments.
Whether you are the obligor (person paying support) or the obligee (person receiving support), you should insist that all support payments be made directly through the State Child Support Disbursement Unit. If you are the obligor, this protects you in the event that you make your full payments on time but your ex-spouse claims not to have received them. If you are the obligee, this protects you in situations where you have not received support payments but the obligee insists he or she has made the payment. The state disbursement unit acts as an impartial intermediary that records each payment received from an obligor and each payment sent to an obligee.
If you are an obligor, you need to understand that INFORMAL PAYMENTS DO NOT COUNT. If you hand your ex-spouse some cash instead of making your payment through the disbursement unit, that cash is simply a gift to the ex-spouse and will not be credited against your support obligation. DO NOT MAKE INFORMAL PAYMENTS OF CHILD SUPPORT.
What if the Obligor Does Not Pay?
Sometimes obligor's do not make the child support payments they have been ordered to make. If you are the obligee, you have two choices for enforcing the child support order.
First, you can contact the attorney who handled your divorce (or any other family law attorney) and ask them to sue your ex-spouse for enforcement. This is the quickest way to enforce a child support order, but you will have to pay some legal fees and court costs. You may be able to recover these from the non-paying obligor, but you should not count on that outcome.
Second, you can contact the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Unit and ask them to enforce the order. They will do so at no cost to you, but that process can be extremely slow due to the huge number of cases the OAG's office handles.
If you are in a hurry and you believe the obligor actually has the money, enforcement through a private attorney is your best enforcement mechanism. Give us a call: 972-985-4448