Though in recent years states have made every effort to standardize and codify child support obligations across the board, there is still plenty of room for disagreement between the parties. Often, what should be a straightforward determination involving a paycheck and a calculator turns into a major battle for both the parties and the court. Furthermore, child support can be modified as circumstances change over time, and often, divorced couples will find themselves in court several times over many years making changes to child support payments.
Thanks to modern technology, many attorneys and judges use a computer program, called Fin Plan, which calculates the amount of child support owed and leaves little room for disagreement. This computer program takes into account many factors, including the income of both parties, the number of children, other payments required by the payor as a result of his or her employment (union dues, etc), which parent maintains health insurance for the children, and the state child support guidelines. As a result, most child support orders, after some negotiation, are entered into by agreement of the parties. However, where the parties cannot agree on a child support amount, the matter may be submitted to a judge for resolution.
As a court is far less-likely to deviate from the state guidelines, it is usually in the payor's best interest to come to come agreement with the receiving parent. In determining the amount of child support to be ordered, the court will look at several factors, including:
In general, the rule regarding child support is that the non-custodial parent (the party with whom the children do not reside on a daily basis) must pay regular child support to the custodial parent (the party with whom the children live). Child support is a legal right bestowed on the children and usually cannot by waived by agreement of the parents. Though some states still look at the financial needs of the children in determining the amount of child support, most have adopted child support guidelines that focus on objective criteria.
Usually, the amount of child support owed by the non-custodial parent is a percentage of his or her net income (the income after taxes). What percentage of that net income is owed to the children is determined by the number of minor children the parties have. For example, a non-custodial parent with only one child may be required to be 20 percent of his or her net income for child support, while a non-custodial parent with four children may have to pay 40 percent. In determining a party's net income, the court will often allow deductions for mandatory payments, such as union dues, non-elective pensions, and the cost of maintaining the children's health insurance.
In situations where the parties have elected to share custody, meaning the children live with each parent approximately fifty percent of the time, child support is often waived, with each party being responsible for supporting the children's financial needs during the time that the children are in their physical care. However, in situations where the time spent between the parents is not equal (for example, sixty-five percent of the time with mom and thirty-five percent of the time with dad), the court may still order the parent spending less time with the children to pay child support.
During times when the children are on an extended vacation (usually more than a week) with the non-residential parent, the court may order an abatement of child support. The thinking behind suspending child support during this time is that the non-custodial parent is paying all the children's expenses during the time they are in his custody. Moreover, some courts will even order the custodial parent to pay support to the non-custodial parent during this time.
Generally, the parties can determine if child support should be paid directly between the parties (usually via a check or regularly occurring wire transfer) or through a state child support agency. Unless both parties are meticulous and infallible accountants, it's usually better for both parties to use a state agency. Where support is paid through the state, child support can be garnished regularly from the payor's paycheck and mailed to the custodial parent. In addition to taking the hassle out of constantly having to write checks to the other party, the state agency will keep detailed records of every payment made between the parties. Finally, the biggest benefit of arranging child support payments through the state is the assistance of state prosecutors in enforcing, collecting, and modifying child support.