Organizing Child Support in Divorce-Part 2

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Determining child support in a divorce is a complex issueThe prior post, “Organizing Child Support in Divorce-Part 1,” introduces the concepts of child support in divorce.

It also explains the “percentage” portion of child support. To calculate that portion, the focus is on the total number of children the couple has.

Let’s review the main points from that post:

  • Child support is meant to cover the main costs of raising the children.
  • Both parents pay child support. Who actually pays how much to whom is a function of the parenting plan that the couple agrees to.
  • 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.
  • The percentage-calculated part of child support uses the New York State Child Support Guidelines for the percentage of the parents’ total income that is to support the children’s housing and care. The percentage is based on the total number of children the couple has. It ranges from 17% for one child to up to 35% for five or more children. (Note that this is a guideline; the couple may agree on a different arrangement by following NYS procedures.)

What Is Prorated Child Support?

This portion is intended to be used only for other specific expenses for the children and is paid by each parent in addition to the child support determined by the percentage calculation discussed in Part 1. The idea here is recognizing that there are other potential expenses that the parents should share beyond those covered by the basic child support amount.

Which Child-Related Expenses Are Considered for Proration?

The following categories of expenses are covered in this type of child support. The costs to be shared are based on the actual costs paid when the associated services are provided to the children:

  • The cost of the children’s health insurance coverage.
  • Children’s medical expenses that are not covered by their health insurance.
  • Child care, if applicable.
  • Education expenses, if applicable.

How Is Prorated Child Support Calculated?

Let’s continue the hypothetical Bob and Sally example from Part 1. They both work and have two children together. The table below shows their income.

Proration of Children's ExpensesBobSallyTotal
Gross annual income$75,000$35,000$110,000

Next, let’s calculate the percentage of the income each parent has compared to the total income.

Proration of Children's ExpensesBobSallyTotal
Gross annual income$75,000$35,000$110,000
% of Total Income68.2%31.8%100%

Now, let’s add the actual amounts spent on eligible expenses for Bob and Sally’s two children:

Proration of Children's ExpensesBobSallyTotal
Gross annual income$75,000$35,000$110,000
% of Total Income68.2%31.8%100%
Children's Health Insurance$1,200$818$382
Uninsured Medical Expenses$800$546$254
Child Care$4,000$2,728$1,272
Total Prorated Expenses$6,000$4,092$1,908

Bob and Sally are each responsible for covering the amounts in his or her column above for this type of expenses.

The Total Child Support Picture from Parts 1 and 2

If we add the sample numbers from the Part 1 post, it gives you a total picture of what Bob and Sally’s child support obligations are for their two children:

Child Support SourcesBobSallyTotal
Percentage-Based$17,315$5,495$22,810
Prorated Expenses$4,092$1,908$6,000
Total Prorated Expenses$21,407$7,403$28,810

What If You and Your Spouse Want to Do Something Different for Child Support?

Plenty of parents deviate from the guidelines for many good reasons. Mediation provides an excellent process for parents to discuss and agree upon a more equitable, balanced, and individual way to share money. There are New York State Child Support Guidelines (see deviation factors in that document) that set forth reasons why deviations from the guidelines might be warranted.

One of the most common reasons why parents deviate from the guidelines is that their children spend equal time with each parent. When this parenting plan works, parents often look at their respective budgets to make sure that each of them have about the same amount of funds available to provide for household expenses and discretionary income. Other reasons parents may come up with their own plan are:

  • The high-income parent may be designated as the non-residential parent for the purposes of child support. In many cases that makes sense so that each parent has enough funds to meet expenses.
  • The specific amount is usually guided by budgets as a good context to discuss sharing money.
  • Often parents will decide to share direct, related child expenses like clothes, hair cuts, and school supplies in an equitable manner.

How Child Support Can Be Modified Over Time

There are guidelines that suggest how child support can be reevaluated. The guidelines provide eligibility to discuss changes; there are no automatic changes that are implemented. The New York State Child Support Guidelines indicate that child support can be reconsidered based on the following:

  • A substantial change in circumstances.
  • Three years from the commencement of child support for Orders entered, last modified or adjusted after October 12, 2010.
  • If there has been a change in either party’s gross income by 15% since the order was entered, last modified or adjusted after October 12, 2010.
  • Cost of Living (COLA), as applicable.
  • If the deviation factors that might have been used in the original Order no longer apply.

Many of my clients create their own formula for changing child support. They can designate their own percentage of income and agree to look at incomes annually or designate their own timing. Some parents build in a cost of living adjustment but do not look at future incomes.

Supporting Your Children

The “Organizing Child Support in Divorce-Part 1” post and this one have focused on the important financial aspects that provide for your children’s health and well-being. It is a complicated process, but if both parents focus on what is best for the children, the plan will go a long way towards helping them adjust to their new lives.


Photo Credit: ©iStockPhoto

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