Child support is the monthly payments made by the parent to provide for their child or children once the parents divorce or separate. They are legally obligated by the state and are enforceable across state lines. Usually, support is provided until the child reaches the age of majority typically 18 or 19, but states can vary on this. This obligation is enforceable both civilly and criminally. Child support is determined as part of the divorce settlement along with other issues such as alimony, custody and visitation.

For most cases, either parent can file a petition for child support. Generally, the majority of the states have laws providing guidelines on how to calculate child support payments. Most of the states mandate that it should be based on the best interests of the child.

What Methods are Utilized to Calculate Child Support?

Usually, there are several methods used to calculate child support. Most states utilize an income shares method in determining the child support obligations. The income shares method calculates the combined income of both parents and the general monthly cost of raising a child. It mandates that each parent be responsible for the percentage of the cost that reflects the percentage their income constitutes of the combined income.

For example, if a parent’s income is seventy percent of the combined income, his or her support obligation would be seventy percent of the monthly cost of raising the child. Furthermore, some states utilize the Melson formula, which is a more complicated version of the income shares method, and which uses other factors to determine each parent’s support obligation.

A minority of states have the percentage of income model as the method. In states that apply the percentage of income model, the court only considers the income of the non-custodial (earning) parent, and typically bases the child support obligation on a set percentage of that income. The percentage of income a parent is required to pay depends on the state you reside in.

In some cases a court will include a cost of living adjustment clause in a support order, which permits for an automatic increase in support obligations, if there is an increase in the cost of living. The cost of living clause guarantees that the child will receive necessary and adequate financial support without frequent modifications to the support order.

What are the Child Support Deviation Factors?

The courts and the parents have the discretion to deviate from the child support formula whenever circumstances call for it. So long as the end result is that the child’s quality of life remains the same and each parent is contributing to the care and costs associated with the child.

There are several statutory factors that the court is allowed to consider that may give rise to request a modification of the child support order:

  • The custodial parent’s income is greater than the non-custodial parent’s income;
  • One of the parents loses their employment or has lost income from other sources through no fault of their own;
  • A child may need medical or mental health care that exceeds what child support can adequately account for;
  • The child’s standard of living can decrease because there is not enough child support coming to the custodial parent;
  • The costs of the custodial parent for housing or related expenses are greatly reduced based on their unique circumstances;
  • A parent who has to travel long distance to complete visitation may be able to receive a reduction in the amount of support due;
  • There are extraordinary costs associated with the non-custodial parent’s visitation or parenting times and;
  • The parents share equally in custody and parenting time with the children.

However, some deviations are not related to the actual payments of regular support, but are related to the percentages each parent contributes to costs and expenses for the child. Usually, first each parent’s adjusted gross income is compared and each parent is then responsible for that percentage of uncovered medical or day care costs.

But in some cases, the judge may be able to order more or less child support, depending on what the child needs and other factors. In most states, if a judge makes a deviation of this nature, he or she may have to make a finding based on evidence. Therefore, a deviation may only be granted when following the standard child support guidelines and ensuring its fair distribution by representing the child’s best interests.

Additionally, there are a number of different types of factors that can influence a deviation. For upward deviations, some factors can include unusual necessary expenses, extraordinary health care costs, special education costs, medical expenses related to a child with disabilities and or high extracurricular expenses. There are scenarios when the child support guidelines are only designed to work for families within a certain income baraket. When the parents’ income exceeds a certain amount, this may also be cause for a deviation from the usual amount. As such, upward deviations are typically related with families who have higher amounts of wealth or high expenses.

How to Request A Deviation in the Child Support Order?

Either parent can request a deviation from the child support guidelines. However, a non-custodial parent generally requests the downward deviation, and the custodial parent usually requests an upward deviation because of the different assistance they need. Deviations are not required or automatic, therefore one parent must affirmatively request the deviation before the matter is determined by the court.

Some states have specific requirements that the deviation request must be made within a certain amount of time before the child support hearing or it will not hear the request to ensure they have a timely procedure in place.

How are the Child Support Deviation Orders Determined?

The court emphasizes the usage of the child’s best interests standard. It is especially sought after when the arguments are made about the ability of the parent to pay. If the party requests a deviation, the court holds a hearing and examines evidence related to the reasonable needs of the child and the ability of the parents to provide the adequate and necessary support. The standard the court utilizes is usually by preponderance of the evidence. For instance, If the court finds through the evidence that the application of the child support guidelines would not meet the needs of the child or if it would be unjust or inappropriate to apply the child support guidelines, the court will order the deviation.

When the court is making decisions about the deviations, it can take into account a number of key factors, such as whether the deviation is in the best interests of the child, the financial resources of the child, the child’s educational requirements, the physical and emotional conditions of the child, whether the child support guidelines would be unfair or whether the supporting parent has certain debts, among others.

When Do I Need to Hire A Child Support Lawyer?

If you are in a situation with child support where you believe there is a need for there to be a deviation from the state’s child support guidelines, you may need to seek out an experienced child support attorney to navigate those issues for you. You are as a parent making child support payments and have a legal right to make this request to the court.