Many people have the same questions about Child Support. Here are answers to some of the questions I hear most frequently in my practice.
- Will I have to pay support on my bonuses or commissions?
The Child Support Guidelines define what is “income” for the purposes of calculating support. Bonuses and commissions clearly fall within this definition (along with many other types of compensation). Typically, support on income that is discretionary is paid on an “if, as and when” basis, meaning that a percentage of that income is paid as child support IF it is received as income. There are limitations, however. The Child Support Guidelines apply presumptively to the first $250,000 of combined income. It is in the court’s discretion to order support on income above that level; if this applies to your family, hopefully you have an attorney to help you formulate arguments for/against an order for support on income above $250,000.
- I think the other parent is earning more now. Should I take them back to court?
Often, people aren’t sure what the other party is earning. I usually advise people to put different scenarios into the child support guidelines worksheet to see how it impacts the order before they decide whether or not to go back to court. The child support guidelines change periodically (most recently, in 2018). Changes sometimes impact people in unexpected ways, and you should definitely check how they impact your particular situation. Also, sometimes a change is income doesn’t have the impact you think it will. Going to court is a costly and time consuming process, and you should have some idea that the change in support will be worth it to you before you begin.
- I think the other parent could/should be earning more. Should I argue that in court?
The answer to this question is similar to the answer above. Often people are upset that the other parent is not working, or is not working to their potential. Again, I ask people to calculate child support using different scenarios. Sometimes, a return to work or to full time work will not have as big an impact on support as hoped. When a person is voluntarily un-employed, or under-employed, the court has the discretion to treat them AS IF they are earning the income they could/should be earning. However, there are elements of proof that have to be met for the court to do this. It is not enough for a parent to say the other party could be earning more. Often, expert testimony at a trial/evidentiary hearing is required to establish earning capacity and the availability or work, before the court can “attribute” income to a party. This is a time consuming and costly process that should be undertaken only after a thorough cost/benefit analysis.
- Do I have to pay through D.O.R.?
Many people prefer not to pay child support through D.O.R. However, the recipient of child support has the right to choose D.O.R. services, even over the objection of the payor. If you prefer not to use D.O.R., see if you can get the recipient to agree to a direct deposit from your paycheck instead.
- What if I don’t get paid weekly?
Child support is calculated on a weekly basis. However, often court orders specify payments at a frequency that matches your payroll schedule (e.g., bi-weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly). But be careful to calculate your obligation correctly if you are given a weekly order but paying on another schedule. There are 4.3 weeks in a month, so be sure to calculate your payment correctly or you could end up with an arrears.
- What happens to my child support order if I have more children?
In general, your older children get “first dibs” on your income – so take this into account when you plan for more children. You will not be able to go to court and request a decrease in child support because you had another child. BUT, if there is a request to increase your support obligation, the fact that you have more children (who either live with you, or who you support through court ordered support or a verifiable, steady contribution to their care), the amount you pay to support the younger child(ren) may be deducted from your income in re-calculating the child support guidelines. You cannot use this to decrease your support to your older children, but may prevent your support from increasing.
- What happens to my child support order if I lose my job?
Your child support isn’t automatically modified (or modifiable) because you lose your job. You MUST file and serve a Complaint for Modification in order to protect yourself from accruing an arrears of child support while you look for work. If you have the means to pay, either through savings or other assets, or unemployment, you will be expected to continue to pay your existing child support order unless/until it is changed by the court. Many people experience huge increases in their health insurance premiums when they lose their jobs – this cost is a factor the court will take into account when determining whether to reduce your child support obligation. The court does not always reduce support because someone loses their job; you should actively seek work and keep a record of your work search to support your request for a reduction.
- Whose insurance costs can be deducted on the Child Support Guidelines worksheet?
Under the most recent Child Support Guidelines, BOTH parents’ health, dental and vision insurance premiums can be deducted. However, only those costs paid by the parent themselves – insurance premiums paid on a parent’s behalf by someone else (like an employer, or a new spouse) cannot be deducted. Uninsured medical expenses are not a part of this figure (however, significant out of pocket medical expenses MAY be a reason to request that the court order a different amount of child support from the guidelines amount).
- How do I calculate the cost of child care?
The cost of child care that enables a parent to work can be deducted by the parent paying the cost. Child care costs include more than just babysitters. If your child goes to summer camp because you work over the summer or goes to pre-school while you work, that cost can be deducted. Simply add up your total child care costs for the year (excluding your date night babysitter!) and divide by 52 to get your average weekly child care cost.
- What is included /not included in child support?
Often, people wonder whether certain expenses are included in child support, and what should be shared. Child support covers the everyday costs of housing, feeding, and clothing the child in your care. Uninsured medical expenses – meaning co-pays, costs for office visits, and prescription costs – are typically handled separately. In addition, if there extra-curricular expenses, these often are handled separately. A common source of disagreement are the significant costs associated with cell phones, and car insurance/drivers education/a car. In addition, people often disagree about what is included in extra curricular expenses (e.g., we agree to share the cost of gymnastics – does that include the cost of tights?) I encourage people to think through their children’s specific needs and interests, and try to be as specific as possible about what will be shared to avoid disagreement down the road.
If you have any questions regarding child support, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Wilchins Cosentino & Novins LLP at 781-235-5500 or send us a note here.