How to Calculate Child Support
Child support is the amount that one parent pays the other for a dependent’s (child’s) care and needs after the parents divorce or separate. Parents do not need to be married to enter a child support agreement, nor do child support agreements need to be formalized by a court proceeding. Each state sets its own guidelines for child support within what’s allowed by the federal government.
Calculating Child Support
In New York child support is administered by the Division of Child Support Services within the state’s Department of Temporary and Disability Insurance. A state law called the Child Support Standards Act governs the way child support is administered so that it’s fair and evenly applied. The agency creates a set of child support guidelines each April which sets the annual obligation amount per child according to the responsible parent’s annual income. For instance, according to the state standard, a parent earning $40,000 per year will pay $6,800 for the first child and $10,000 for two children. A parent making $65,000 per year is expected to pay $11,050 for the first child and $16,250 for two children.
3 Step Formula for Calculating Child Support
There is a three-step formula for determining child support in New York. In brief, it requires:
- a determination of the parents’ combined incomes;
- calculating each parent’s share of the child’s expenses, and
- including mandatory and optional add-ons such as child care and unreimbursed medical expenses.
While the three-step process appears straightforward, it can be rather complicated. For instance, if the parents’ combined incomes exceeds the current $148,000 cap, one calculation of child support is made using the first $148,000, and a second calculation is applied to the amount above $148,000. Courts also weigh things like spousal maintenance payments, lifestyle standards, and deductions.
Parents may negotiate different amounts for child support. The standard applies to a traditional situation in which one parent has primary custody and the other parent has visitation. The child support payments may be different for parents who have joint custody or extenuating circumstances, such as one parent paying for health insurance or school tuition in lieu of a portion of the financial support.
The court overseeing the child support agreement has significant power over the parents’ lives. If the noncustodial parent who is ordered to pay child support has left a well-paying job to take a lower-paying job, the court may order that person to return to a higher-paying job because the payments can be based on earning potential. Likewise, a person with debt obligations may not have loan payments taken into consideration if the court finds that child support payments are more important. These judgements can require a change in lifestyle, such as moving to a more affordable home or taking a second job. Nonpayment of child support obligations are taken seriously, with “deadbeat” parents jailed with some frequency.
Modifying Child Support
Parents must arrange with the court to modify a court-imposed support arrangement. Loss of employment, disability, or other significant change in circumstances may prompt a court to allow a petitioner to collect more in child support, to be excused from paying child support temporarily, to end payments, or to reduce the amount required.
Penalties for Nonpayment
It is not uncommon for noncustodial parents to fall behind in child support payments but penalties for nonpayment of child support are severe in New York. The state has a process in place that may include some or all of the following:
- suspension of driver’s license;
- nonrenewal of state-issued professional license;
- nonrenewal or issuance of passport;
- seizure of tax refund;
- seizure of lottery winnings;
- wages garnished;
- seizure of bank accounts, or
- criminal prosecution.
Nonpayment is Common
The U.S. Census shows that in its most recent data collected, more than $40 billion is paid in child support each year, with the average annual payment being $5,760, or about $450 per month, but less than half of the recipients reported receiving the full amount due (the average actual amount paid was $3,447 per year). The majority of those paying child support was responsible for just one child, but some pay support for adults such as parents as well. Some 22 million children are affected by child support payments, representing more than a quarter of all children under age 21 in the United States. Four out of five custodial parents were the mother.
The federal Office of the Inspector General publishes a list of most wanted deadbeat parents who have become fugitives in order to avoid paying child support. Several have fled the country including David Lawrence Adams, a cardiologist who is believed to be hiding in Israel. Formerly a resident of New York, Adams owes over $4 million in unpaid child support for two children. He was indicted in 2008 for failure to pay the court-ordered $2,500 per month in support.