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CHILD SUPPORT IS FLEXIBLE
Child Support Formula
Everyone knows the Child Support Standards Act formula for calculating child support. One child: 17%. Two children: 25%. Three children: 29%. Four or more children: at least 35%. This is the formula that any court in New York State will use in calculating financial support for children. But how does it actually work?
Calculation of Child Support is Really Just on the Non-Custodial Parent’s Income.
There is a myth on Long Island that the custodial parent’s income reduces the support obligation of the non-custodial parent. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, the formula takes into account the combined income of both parents. But, after the calculations are complete, it then disregards the child support assigned to the custodial parent.
Let’s look at an example, using 2016 figures. Mom makes $68,500 a year gross income. Dad makes $94,000 a year gross income. Their total gross income is $162,500. First, you have to deduct the social security and Medicare tax (as well as certain other deductions that don’t apply to most people). So, Mom’s adjusted income for child support calculations after those adjustments is $63,269.75; Dad’s is $86,809. The total combined income is $150,068.75, not $162,500.
The Myth of the Cap on Child Support.
Next, you calculate the child support on the combined income. This is where people often get confused. It’s complicated. [note: these calculations are all yearly figures]. There is a cap (adjusted yearly by New York State) on the calculation of financial support for children in divorce. It is not a cap on the amount of income subject to child support. For 2016 the cap is $143,000 on combined income. So, Mom and Dad have a combined income that is $19,500 greater than the cap. Now what? First we calculate the child support based on the amount up to the cap in earnings: $143,000 x 17% = $24,310. However, we then have also to calculate the child support on the amount over $143,000: $19,500 x 17% = $1,201.69.
Why do we have to calculate the support in these two parts? What is the point? The Child Support Standards Act requires this for the following reason. For financial support for children based on income under $143,000 a judge is required to use the formula. If the judge wants to not use the formula the judge must explain why, based on a list of factors laid out in the Child Support Standards Act. Judges usually do not want to go to that trouble and just use the formula. The calculation on the income over $143,000 is exactly the opposite. A Judge is required to explain how the judge has arrived at that number, again, based on the factors laid out in the law. The so called “cap” is not an upper limit on child support; it is merely a cut-off point for the methods that the judge uses in explaining the support award. For the most part judges apply the same formula to the income over $143,000. However, there is a point where judges decide that the formula has produced enough child support and they stop applying it. Every judge is different, and the amounts vary from downstate counties, Manhattan, and upstate. My experience is that, on Long Island, by the time you get to an income of $250,000 – $350,000 for the non-custodial parent any more child support has to be justified by something more than just the formula.
The Custodial Parent’s Income Is Ignored
So, the total child support award based on the combined income of Mom and Dad is ($24,310 + $1,201.69 =) $25,511.69. Mom makes 42% of that income. Dad makes 58% of that income. So, Mom’s obligation is ($25,511.69 x 42% =) $10,754.16. Dad’s obligation is ($25,511.69 x 58% =) $14,757.53.
This is often where the confusion comes in. Let’s assume for this example that Mom is the custodial parent (it could be Dad, but here, let’s assume Mom). Mom’s obligation is theoretical — she doesn’t have to pay it and she doesn’t have to account for spending in that amount. The support actually payable is $14,757.53 ($1,229.79/month), payable from Dad to Mom.
Child Support in Divorce Mediation
The courts require that we make the calculations that I have explained earlier in this article. It must appear in the divorce papers submitted to the Court. However, one of the benefits of mediation is that we can look at these numbers, as well as any other factors that the two of you feel are important to consider, and alter those numbers. It takes both of you to agree. It is my experience that many other factors can come into play when the two of you are not forced into the straight-jacket of contested divorce with aggressive divorce lawyers.