Michigan adjusted its child support laws in 2008 and again in 2013 to make sure they’re as fair as possible. Although the 2013 amendment largely involved paperwork and administrative changes, the 2008 adjustment addressed the amount of time each parent spends caring for the child as a factor in determining support awards.
Child Support Calculations
Michigan uses the income shares model for calculating child support. The formula uses both parents’ incomes, since each would have been available to the kids had their parents not broken up. The income shares calculation also includes factors that consider parenting time, the number of children who require financial support, health care costs, child care costs and children from other relationships who also need support. The state publishes a manual to walk parents through the steps of calculating all these components.
Like most states, Michigan will impute income to an unemployed or underemployed parent for purposes of calculating child support. This means the judge can use income the parent would earn if he was employed. But the state’s court of appeals ruled in 2012 that this can only happen if a parent is actually capable of employment – meaning no physical or mental disability prevents him from working.
The Effect of Joint Custody
The 2008 legislation recognized that parenting time costs money – the noncustodial parent is directly supporting his children during times when they’re living in his home, in addition to paying child support. This isn't particularly fair if his kids spend a lot of time with each parent so the new guidelines adjust for this. Support obligations are reduced by the amount of time, measured in overnights, that children spend with their noncustodial parent.
If you have joint custody – meaning your child spends the same amount of time with each parent – it might seem to follow that your support obligation would be zero. But it doesn’t always happen this way because so many other factors contribute to a support obligation. The parent with the higher income might end up with a nominal child support payment because the law requires him to contribute to expenses like work-related child care and health care costs.
Age of Emancipation
Child support is typically payable in Michigan until your child turns 18, but the court can continue support until age 19 1/2 if your child hasn’t yet graduated from high school, or if your child is still attending school and is institutionalized.
Child Support Arrears
Child support payments usually must be made through the Michigan State Disbursement Unit, so the state can keep track of them and take action when a noncustodial parent falls behind. If you do fall into arrears, either the other parent or the state can request a show cause hearing with the court where you’re obligated to appear before a judge and explain why you haven't been paying. If you don’t have a good reason, you can be held in contempt of court, which may result in jail time and fines. If you don’t show up for the hearing at all, the judge can issue an immediate bench warrant for your arrest.
The state will take other steps as well to try to convince you to pay. It can suspend your driver’s, professional or recreational licenses, snag your tax refunds and place liens against your property. Michigan reports your delinquency to the credit bureaus and can arrange with the federal government to block you from getting or renewing a passport if your arrears are $2,500 or more. The state applies a surcharge to arrears – an interest rate equal to whatever five-year U.S. Treasury Notes are earning at the time, plus one percent – that continues to accrue until you catch up.