How is child support calculated?

The child support guidelines are a statewide formula used to determine how much support is owed based on the parties' net monthly income. To come to a net figure, the court will take your gross monthly income and then deduct the following payments: 1). federal, state and local income taxes; 2). F.I.C.A payments (Social Security, Medicare and Self-Employment taxes); 3). mandatory (non-voluntary) retirement payments; 4). union dues; and 5). any alimony paid to the other party.

Once the net monthly figures are calculated, the two incomes are combined to determine the total net monthly income as if it were an intact family. This total net monthly figure is then entered into the child support guideline and based on the number of children, a basic child support figure is computed. Your share or responsibility of the basic support obligation is based upon how much you contributed to the total net monthly figure. Ex. If the basic support obligation is $1,000 a month for two children and you earned 40% of the total net monthly income and the other party earned 60% of the combined net income, your child support obligation would be $400 a month and the other party would owe $600 a month.

The most common adjustments to the basic support obligation are applied for the following additional costs or family situation:

  • Child care expenses
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Private school tuition, camp other needs
  • Mortgage payments of custodial parent
  • Substantial or shared physical custody

**The child support numbers are calculated slightly different for high income cases (those who have a combined net monthly income in excess of $30,000) and for those who have more than six (6) children.

What happens if I am unemployed or if my wife only works part-time?

Both parents have a duty to support. If a party is not working or if they are not working to their full potential, the court will question that party and look to their age, education, training, health, work experience, earning history and child care responsibilities to determine an appropriate earning capacity and hourly wage to attribute to the unemployed or underemployed person. It is the court's job to determine not what you make, but what you are capable of making. For instance, you cannot have a nursing license and work at a McDonalds. You can remain employed at the McDonald's, but the court will calculate the support numbers based on what you would be earning as a nurse.

What is the difference between Spousal Support, APL and Alimony?

Spousal Support, APL (Alimony Pending Litigation) and Alimony are all forms or maintenance or support awarded to the dependent spouse or the spouse who makes less money. There are certain factors which determine one's eligibility to receive these forms of support, the main factors being the disparity of income between you and your spouse, the seeking spouse's financial need for this extra money and possibly their conduct during the marriage will be explored.

In general, the different names of the support are given to distinguish the different stages of the proceedings. In short, spousal support and APL are awarded prior to a final divorce and alimony is awarded after the divorce is over. A divorce complaint must be filed to apply for APL, but a divorce complaint is not needed for spousal support. The most important distinction between spousal support and APL is "fault" or entitlement. If you are applying for spousal support, you cannot be at fault for the breakup of your marriage and then ask to be financially supported by your spouse. Your spouse can argue that you are not "entitled". APL on the other hand, fault is not a factor.

How is Spousal Support and APL calculated?

If either you or your spouse are entitled to receive spousal support or APL, it is important to note that each are calculated in the exact same manner. Not to be sexist, but to explain how it is calculated, let's assume that husband makes more money than the wife. Since husband will be paying the support, he is called the "obligor" and wife is the "oblige" because she is receiving the money. There is a quick no nonsense formula and in most cases it is as follows:

  1. Take Husband's net monthly income and subtract any child support order that may have just awarded in this case. Then deduct any amount of money that husband may be paying a former spouse for child support and/or alimony. This answer will be "A".
  2. Take Wife's net monthly income and add to that any child support that she may be receiving from husband in this present case. This answer will be "B".
  3. Subtract as follows: A-B = "C"
  4. If you have minor children - you get 30% of "C"If there are NO minor children of this marriage, you get 40% of "C".

Depending on the incomes, the calculation may not warrant an award, or you could get quite a substantial amount of money.

Can I represent myself for a support hearing?

Yes you can, but should you - no. There are many factors which go into the calculation of child support, spousal support and APL. Once an order is obtained, it is almost impossible to fix any mistakes that you may have made by not arguing a certain issue. Further, I have seen many cases where a spouse would be entitled to a significant amount of support money, but their attorney filed for spousal when they should have filed for APL. Therefore, if some attorneys can screw this up, do you really want to jeopardize this by doing it yourself?

How many support hearings will I have to attend? What is the Process?

This depends upon how realistic you are or how willing you are to negotiate. After filing a Petition for Support, the first schedule support matter will be in approximately 45 days before a Conference Officer. The following is a brief description of the support process.

A. Support Conference

These conferences are very informal. You need to bring your last pay stub and photo ID. The conference officer will run the child support numbers and try to obtain an agreement from the parties. If you are not disputing each other's income and there are no other issues, then try to settle it. The conference officer will hand you the calculations so review it carefully. Yes, the one paying support always thinks the support numbers are too high and the receiver thinks the amount of support is too low. The bottom line is, if the salaries are correct and put in appropriately, the child support guideline program will generates the correct number.

If you cannot come to an agreement because of a miscellaneous issue or if a parent is not working to their potential, you will need to ask for a Master hearing and have the Master in Support resolve the issues and/or determine the appropriate income levels or earning capacity of each party.

B. Support Master Hearings

A Support Master is a licensed attorney who conducts a mini-trial. These hearings are recorded. At the hearing, the parties are sworn in and each party presents evidence by way of testimony and documents relating to the child support, spousal support and/or APL issues. The Master will also ask you about your everyday living expenses. Many people think that if they are paying a large car note or a large mortgage payment that they are entitled to more money because the other party has very minimal expenses or is living rent free. This is not true. Depending on the circumstances you may get a small mortgage contribution, but other than that, your monthly expenses will rarely warrant you a higher support number or any form of a deviation from the guideline figure. Once the Master's hearing is concluded, you will not have a decision until the Master renders a report – this could take many weeks.

C. Exceptions

Once you receive the Support Master's report, read it carefully. If you believe a mistake was made, you can file Exceptions to have the case heard before a judge. You need to be able to tell the judge what the Master did wrong and how it should be corrected. You do this by ordering the notes of testimony from the Master's hearing and point to the specific arguments or issues from the notes. The judge will make their ruling based on the testimony that was presented. If the Master made a clerical mistake or a simple math error, the judge will likely fix the mistake there. Other than that, many judges "remand" the case. This means the judge sends it back down to the Master to fix the errors.

D. Remand

After the case is brought back down to the Support Master, generally the entire case is re-litigated. Again you may wait weeks for the Master's report. If you still find problems with the report, Exceptions can be filed again and the process starts all over.

Do I have to pay for my child's catholic school tuition?

There is no straightforward answer. If you have paid towards the tuition before but now you want to stop, likely answer is that you may still be required to pay. Courts look to many factors, namely your ability to pay and the standard of living the child has become accustomed.

Do I have to pay for college tuition?

The rules of court indicate that it is a possibility, but I have found that as long as you have not previously agree to pay college costs in writing, the answer has been no.

When does child support end?

Child support stops when your child turns 18 years old AND finishes high school. If your child is 18 yrs. old and will graduate in June of that year, you pay until June. The order does not automatically stop – you need to file a petition to terminate. The only exception to this is if your child has a significant medical issue that prevents him from becoming a productive member of society at the age of 18.

When should I file for a modification of support?

The rule is that you can only file if there is a material or significant change of circumstance. A raise in either parent's income or an increased expense for a child may trigger this. However, if the other party got a raise, unless the raise was for a significant amount, it will not alter the guideline figures by much. It may not be worth your time or efforts to file.

I received a pay raise, do I have to tell my spouse?

The rules require that you notify the Domestic Relation Division and the other party in writing within 7 days of any change to your income that would have material effect on the support numbers. If you don't tell and the other party finds out, when they file for a modification of the support order, it can be made retroactive from the date your raise was implemented.

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