The goal of child support is to help a child maintain the standard of living he or she enjoyed prior to the divorce. In order to calculate child support amounts, courts consider the relative incomes of both parents, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and the costs associated with the child’s needs, such as daycare or medical expenses.
Generally, the noncustodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent to assist with the costs of raising the child. Although the noncustodial parent cannot dictate how the money is spent, it is intended to help pay for groceries, clothes, school supplies, and other necessities.
Child Support Statistics
The average amount of child support due to custodial parents in the United States is $5,760. However, the average American custodial parent only receives $4,049 in child support each year. Only 43.5% of custodial parents receive the full amount of child support that was ordered by the court. This works out to approximately 2.54 million single custodial parents receiving the full amount of child support that they are due.
Custodial parents sometimes receive non-monetary forms of child support from the noncustodial parent. This support includes:
- 7% receive birthday, holiday, or other gifts
- 45% receive clothes, diapers, shoes, etc.
- 1% receive food or groceries
- 20% receive payment for medical expenses
- 5% receive payment for child care or summer camp
The Difference Between Child Support and Child Custody
It is important not to confuse child support and child custody. Even if a biological parent is not permitted to see the child, he or she must continue to abide by a child support order.
How are Child Support Payments Calculated?
Each state has its own guidelines for calculating child support. These guidelines consider many factors, including:
- The child’s needs, including healthcare and education
- The custodial parent’s income
- The noncustodial parent’s income
- The child’s pre-divorce standard of living
To determine the paying parent’s income, the court looks at his or her net income after taxes, Social Security, union dues, and health care costs are deducted. Although the paying parent’s basic expenses such as food and housing may influence the court’s decision, the court typically will not take into account other personal expenses and debts, such as loans or entertainment expenses. The justification is that taking care of the child should take precedence over these expenses.
Child Support for the Voluntarily Unemployed or Underemployed
High-earning spouses sometimes attempt to avoid paying child support by quitting their jobs to reduce their income. This is known as voluntary unemployment. They may also take a lower-earning job. This is known as voluntary underemployment. In either case, the court may impute income to that spouse, meaning that the court will determine the person’s earning potential, and assign a child support payment based on their potential earnings.
Courts will not generally impute income in situations where a spouse has lost his or her job involuntarily and is making good faith efforts to become employed again.
Child Support and Taxes
Unlike alimony and spousal support, child support payments are neither tax deductible by the payer nor considered taxable earned income for the recipient.
When both biological parents live and file taxes together, claiming the child as a dependent is straightforward. Following a divorce, however, you might wonder who gets to claim the child as a dependent on their taxes. Generally, the parent who provides more than half of the child’s support is permitted to take the exemption. If both parents share equal custody, they may share the exemption by claiming the dependent every other year.
Can Child Support Obligations Be Waived?
You and your spouse may agree to waive child support obligations in your divorce settlement. If both parties agree, the court will not order child support.
Can Child Support Obligations Be Modified?
Should your financial circumstances change, you may petition to modify your child support order. The court will hold a hearing to consider changing the order to reflect the changes in your situation.
How Long do You Have to Pay Child Support?
In New York State, a child is entitled to support until he or she reaches the age of 21. In certain situations, a child may become “emancipated” from his or her family before the 21st birthday. If the child gets married, becomes self-sufficient, or joins the military, he or she may be considered emancipated in the eyes of the law.
Consequences for Disobeying a Child Support Order
If an ex-spouse does not pay the child support that is ordered, a violation petition must be filed. The court may take money out of the person’s paycheck (wage garnishment) or seize assets or property to make the payments.
Courts take child support very seriously. Falling behind in child support payments may result in the government revoking a driver’s license, business license, or passport. The IRS can distribute payment out of tax refunds, and bank accounts could be seized.
A Child Support Attorney Can Help
You don’t have to go through this alone. An experienced child support lawyer can help you achieve your child support goals as quickly and efficiently as possible. Contact us or call (631) 928-8000 to schedule a complimentary consultation with an attorney at Winkler Kurtz, LLP, and to learn more about your legal options.