Organizing Child Support in Divorce-Part 1

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Determining child support in a divorce is a complex issueOne of the scariest parts of ending a marriage is the worry about financial security.

Each person wants to create a comfortable home for themselves and their children.

When couples discuss how they are going to share money between them, there are generally two concepts: child support and spousal maintenance (also referred to as alimony).

Divorce mediation provides an excellent setting to discuss the many options and individualized ways to exchange child support. This first of two posts gives an overview of child support as governed by New York State divorce law.

What Is Child Support?

Findlaw.com’s section on family law describes this well:

“Parents whose children are in the physical custody of the other parent usually are required to pay child support. These payments are meant to help cover the costs of raising a child.

“Whether it’s through a mutual agreement or a court order, paying child support is not only important to the child’s well-being but also strictly enforced by state authorities. In fact, a parent who ignores a court order to pay child support could face criminal punishment. The issue of child support should revolve around what is best for the child.”

Who Pays Child Support?

Both parents pay child support.

Who actually pays how much to whom is a function of the parenting plan that the couple agrees to. The New York State Child Support Guidelines provide that the parent who is with the child more (generally based on overnights but not always) is the primary residential parent (PRP) for the purposes of child support.

In terms of actual money changing hands, let’s say Bob is the non-PRP and Sally is the PRP. Bob pays his agreed-upon share of the total child support amount to the PRP (by check or whatever financial mechanism the couple agrees to). At the same time, Sally is expected, from her own income, to devote her share of the total child support amount to the appropriate household and child expenses.

What Is Child Support To Be Used For?

Child support law is designed to create comparable environments for the children to feel comfortable in each parent’s home after the divorce.

Child support is intended to help fund household expenses such as the mortgage, utilities, food, gas, home insurance, and the like. It is also intended to cover the ordinary expenses of the child such as clothes, school lunches, school supplies, and haircuts.

Regarding the effect of child support on the parents’ income taxes:

  • It is not taxable income for the receiver. It does not increase the income taxes of the person who receives it.
  • It is not tax deductible by the payor. It does not reduce the income taxes of the person who pays it.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

Child support has two official parts, each intended for specific needs of the children:

Part 1: The percentage based on the parents’ total income. The portion of the combined adjusted parental income to be devoted to child support is one of the following percentages determined by the total number of children you have:

  • One child: 17%.
  • Two children: 25%.
  • Three children: 29%.
  • Four children: 31%.
  • Five or more children: No less than 35%.

The child support percentages listed above were designated in 1988 and have not been adjusted since that time. However, because incomes have risen, theoretically, child support has also increased.

This post focuses on this part of child support.

Part 2: The proration portion is based on the ratio of one parent’s income to that of the other. This is intended to be used only for other specific expenses for the children and is paid in addition to the child support determined by the percentage calculation above. The other expenses are:

  • The incremental costs for health insurance coverage.
  • The actual uninsured medical expenses for the children.
  • Child care, if applicable.
  • Pre-college education, if applicable.

The proration concept is covered in more detail in Organizing Child Support in Divorce-Part 2.

Calculation of Parental Income

Let’s use a hypothetical example of Bob and Sally, who both work and have two children together. Let’s say Sally will be the primary residential parent (PRP).

Child Support PercentageBobSallyTotal
Gross annual income (1)$75,000$35,000$110,000
FICA @ 7.65% (2)($5,738)($2,678)($8,416)
Other deductions (3)$0$0$0
Net amount (4)$69262$32322$101584
% for 2 children 25% (5)$17,315$5,495$22,810

(1) This includes overtime, sales commissions, bonuses, and all sources of income with a few exceptions.
(2) FICA tax is collected by the US government for Social Security and Medicare. It is the only tax that is deducted because it is the only tax that is the same for everyone.
(3) There are other eligible deductions from gross income that are applied, if relevant, such as child support paid for a child with a different former spouse or spousal maintenance.
(4) These are the income amounts that the guideline percentage is applied to.
(5) For 2 children, the guideline amount of annual child support is 25%. Bob pays his 25% to Sally, the PRP. Sally is also expected to devote her 25% to the applicable household and child-related expenses.

Effect of the Income Cap On Child Support Calculations

The current combined adjusted parental income cap is $143,000. It is adjusted every two years; it was last changed March 1, 2016.

Example: If Bob and Sally have a combined adjusted parental income of $141,000, this cap says the percentage-based child support for their two children (25%) is $35,250 ($141,000 x 25%).

If Total Parental Income Is Greater Than $143,000
If the combined parental income amount income exceeds $143,000, the law permits, but does not require, the use of the child support percentages in calculating the child support obligation on the income above $143,000.

Example: Let’s say Bob and Sally have a combined adjusted parental income of $171,000. If there were no income cap, their percentage-based child support obligation would be $42,750 ($171,000 x 25%).

Because of this income cap, the percentage-based child support would be calculated at $35,750 ($143,000 X 25%). The law permits, but does not require, the difference of $7,000 ($42,750-$35,750) to also be considered for this couple’s child support obligation.

If a Parent’s NYS Income Below US Poverty Level

For example, the 2014 US poverty level for a one-person household in the contiguous 48 states is $11,675.

The New York State Child Support Guidelines state that, if a parent’s income is less than 135% of the individual US poverty guidelines, that parent’s annual child support obligation is $300.

$11,675 x 135% equals $17,954.

Therefore, a parent with an annual 2014 income of $17,954 or less has a child support obligation of $300 per year.

Other Considerations Regarding Child Support

  • It is useful to consider having a life insurance policy on the non-PRP who is paying child support to the PRP. The PRP could be designated as the beneficiary. The insurance amount might approximate the total financial obligation over the child support-paying period. This is because, if the non-PRP parent passes away, their contribution to child support could end. That could cause significant problems concerning the financial support of the children.
  • If a parent dies, Social Security benefits would be provided (if eligible) for children up to age 18.
  • Child support may be extended by mutual agreement to continue until a child completes college (usually within 4 years high school graduation).
  • Child support ends at 21 or prior to 21 upon the child’s emancipation. That typically happens if a child enters the military, marries, or does not go on to higher education after high school and is independent.

Child Support Is a Complicated Issue

As you can now tell, child support is determined by a variety of factors that the law tries to take into consideration. If both parents keep the children’s best interests at heart, then that will drive the best possible outcome.


Photo Credit: ©iStockPhoto

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