Paying child support is a long-term commitment – until your child turns 18 in Iowa, or even 19 if she’s still in high school. The state calculates support according to the income shares method, the more complicated of the two formulas used by most jurisdictions. The idea behind this method is that your child is entitled to the same level of support she would have enjoyed if your family had remained intact.
Income Shares Calculations
The income shares model begins with adding together both parents’ incomes. Then, the Iowa child support guidelines determine how much of the total should reasonably go toward your children’s needs. Each parent contributes to this amount in a percentage equal to his percentage of the total combined income. For example, if you earn $4,000 a month and your ex earns $2,000, your income represents about 66 percent of the total. If the guidelines say that $1,500 should go to your children, your support obligation would begin at $990 a month, or 66 percent of $1,500. The Iowa Department of Human Services offers an interactive estimator on its website to help you get an idea of what you’ll owe. This basic support amount is only the beginning of the calculation, however.
Additions and Deductions
Iowa bases support on parents’ gross incomes, but this is misleading. It’s not what you earn before any deductions are made from your pay. It’s what’s left after you pay state and federal income taxes and FICA, as well as other mandatory deductions, such as union dues or contributions to retirement plans. “Mandatory” is the key word – you can’t subtract items from your gross income if you voluntarily contribute to them. Iowa’s child support guidelines allow for other deductions and additions, including:
- Support you pay for children of other relationships is deducted from gross pay.
- Payments you make for your children’s health insurance are also deducted.
- Child care expenses and uninsured medical expenses may be added to the support order in the same percentages as the basic support obligation.
- You can take an extraordinary visitation credit if your children reside with you more than 127 overnights a year. This is deducted from your basic support obligation because you’re supporting them directly during these times.
Making Support Payments
Most child support is paid by income withholding in Iowa. An order is sent to your employer, who has 10 days to begin deducting the amount of child support each pay period and then must send the money to the state. You can object to the income withholding order by requesting a conference with Iowa's Child Support Recovery Unit within 15 days, but you may not have much luck. Income withholding is mandated by state and federal laws unless both parents and the court agree otherwise. The state will withhold child support from unemployment benefits if you’re not working.
If you don’t pay support through an income withholding order, for example, if you’re self-employed, you must still make payments through Iowa’s Collection Services Center so the state can keep track of them. You can mail a check or money order or arrange for automatic withdrawals from your bank account. You can also take cash payments to any Child Support Recovery Unit office.
Child Support Enforcement
Iowa’s rules for past due child support are similar to those in other states. If you fall behind, such as because you were out of work for a while, an additional percentage is tacked on to your basic support obligation when you become employed again and a new income withholding order will be issued. This added amount goes toward your arrears. Withholding for both arrears and current support can take up to 50 percent of your pay.