Child support calculations are far from a one-size-fits-all equation. Not only do different states use different formulas, but also, a formula takes myriad small details into consideration so the court can tailor it for individual families. Courts can, and sometimes do, deviate from their formulas even more to adjust for special circumstances. You won’t have to calculate the deviation on your own – the judge does this based on his interpretation of the facts.
Income Shares versus Percentage of Income
Most states use one of two different methods for calculating support. A few use the percentage of obligor’s income model. This takes a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income -- and that percentage increases with the number of children he must support. For example, in Texas, a noncustodial parent with three children pays a flat 30 percent of his net income. This formula doesn’t take the custodial parent’s earnings or parenting time into consideration. It’s overly simplified, so most states don’t use it; they make calculations based on the income shares formula instead. This method uses both parents’ incomes, with the idea being that children would benefit from their combined earnings if the family remained intact. The income shares formula is a complicated equation involving detailed worksheets that incorporate parenting time variables. Unless your parenting time plan is unusual, no additional calculations for deviation are typically necessary.
50-50 Physical Custody
When parents divide time with their children equally or close to equally, the court may make support adjustments to accommodate such a schedule. For purposes of completing the income shares worksheet, one parent must still be named the primary or custodial parent even though the children are spending equal time in each home. In Georgia, this defaults to the parent who earns less. In several other states, it’s the parent designated by the court to pay the children’s “controlled,” or direct expenses. These include things like clothing and entertainment. Expenses such as housing, utilities and food are fixed -- and both parents bear these on behalf of the children during the time each parent is with them. Adjustments are then made on the worksheets to accommodate one parent paying the controlled expenses. For example, a court in New Jersey decided it’s fair to deduct 25 percent of the controlled expense total from the child support obligation of the paying parent. The exact method used is highly individualized according to state law, so if you and the other parent are planning to divide physical custody evenly, you might want to consult with a local attorney to find out how it will affect support.
Other Parenting Time Arrangements
Some parenting time arrangements fall in the middle between the traditional every-other-weekend scenario and a 50-50 schedule. States have different ways of dealing with this, too. In Kansas, if the children spend 35 to 49 percent of their time with the noncustodial parent, that parent receives a parenting time adjustment in the child support equation. For example, if the kids spend 40 to 44 percent of their time with their father, his support obligation is reduced by 10 percent. Minnesota applies a similar method when children spend 10 percent of their time or more with the noncustodial parent. In percentage-of-income states such as Texas, judges are permitted to take increased parenting time into consideration and adjust the child support percentage at their own discretion, but the statutes don’t include any set equation for deviations.
Child support deviations aren’t just designed to accommodate additional parenting time. Sometimes adjustments are made because the noncustodial parent lives some distance away so he incurs travel costs to see his kids. Judges can make deductions from his child support obligation to allow for this. The amount of the deviation is typically discretionary, not mandatory, and is based on the travel costs involved.