Undergoing a divorce can be a long, emotional process, especially if there are children involved. Not only must asset distribution, property division and child custody be determined, but also the amount of child support, if any.
There are several factors that play a role in determining how much child support you will receive, whether agreed upon by both parents or decided by a judge, including:
1. Your Former Spouse’s Gross Income
A judge isn’t going to require someone to pay more child support than he or she can afford. As a result, one key factor to determining how much support should be awarded to one parent from the other is their gross income, less the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax.
This includes all sources of income, such as (if applicable):
- Employment salary
- Workers’ compensation
- Unemployment Insurance
- Social security
- Disability payments
- Spousal maintenance (from a previous marriage)
2. Your Current Gross Income
The courts will also consider your current gross income, as well as earning capacity. "Earning capacity” represents the amount of money that could potentially be made in the future. To do this, the court looks at both parents’ education, employment history, past and current salaries, and employment opportunities (i.e., if there is job growth in their respective fields).
Some parents don’t necessarily have the ability to make enough money to support themselves and their children without significant help from the other. For example, the earning potential of a stay-at-home parent who's been out of the workforce for the past decade will likely be deemed lower than that of another who is going through a divorce but has a career.
3. The Number of Children You Have
The number of children you and your former spouse share, as well as their ages, also plays a significant role in child support cases. Typically, the more children involved the more child support the non-custodial parent will be required to pay the custodial parent. As a result, a higher percentage of the non-custodial parent’s gross income, less the FICA tax, is withheld for child support if he or she has three children under the age of 18, as opposed to just one.
Associated percentages are as follows: 17% for one child, 25% for two children, 29% percent for three children, 31% for four children, and 35% for five-plus.
Those percentages are just guidelines. A judge can decide to deviate upward or downward from those percentages, though an explanation is required to justify such a deviation.
Further, a judge will decide whether to order child support above the cap. In New York, for example, judges will apply the above percentages to combined parents income up to “the cap” of $148,000 (as of March 1, 2018). But since every case is different, and because there are so many factors that can affect child support, the judge can direct child support for income above the cap at his or her discretion, based upon numerous factors, including the needs of the children, the other financial resources of each, tax consequences and many others.
There are child support calculators available to give parents facing a divorce a general idea of associated amounts. The governmental website for New York City—NYC.gov—provides one HERE. Still, take that figure with a grain of salt, since there are so many contributing factors to a case. It’s therefore best to contact a child support attorney for additional information.
4. The Needs of the Children
This is an extremely important component to every case involving child custody and support, as expenses made to take care of the children give the court a better idea of how much the custodial parent will actually require.
5. The Child Custody Arrangement
The amount of time each parent spends with the children is another factor affecting child support. For example, some may be under the false pretense that with shared custody arrangements, child support is not required. But this isn’t always the case. The party that earns the greater salary can be deemed the “non-custodial parent” for child support purposes, even if that parent is with the child 50% of the time. There are pitfalls in this procedure. Since every situation is different, a judge will look at each case individually, rather than have a universal answer for all. Contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney to better help understand parental rights and how such cases play out.
Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP possess the experience and knowledge necessary to help you navigate the complicated process of divorce. Contact Us to learn more about how child support is calculated, and any other divorce-related questions, today.
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