Child Support: Not as Simple as You Might Think
“How much will my child support be?” I hear this question almost daily and have heard it consistently for my 26 year career. The payer wants to know how much money he or she will have to come up with, while the recipient wants to know how much money he or she can bank on getting. Parents have both a legal and moral obligation to financially support their minor children. With separated, often warring, parents Family Court is the place where child support is established and enforced. South Carolina has uniform child support guidelines, which are used to compute the child support obligations in most cases. For that reason, many litigants believe, incorrectly, that child support is simply a function of plugging the numbers into the computer. However, there are many variables that go into the child support calculation. And changes to those variables can mean changes in the dollars paid or received. But you need an experienced Family Court attorney to know where the areas that are subject to “wiggle room” are.
The incomes of the parties are the first area to be considered. If you are self-employed, this can be a tricky area. You may need a CPA or financial planning expert to help determine a fair income. All self-employed persons have a cash flow that is much greater if viewed without consideration of business expenses. The child support guidelines do not apply to persons with very high gross monthly incomes. Those cases are decided in the discretion of the Family Court Judge on a case by case basis.
If you are salaried, what about bonuses? If you are an hourly worker, what about overtime? What if the other parent doesn’t work or has no income? Income can be imputed in certain cases. In fact, the issue of how to impute income and what needs to be a Court’s order regarding imputing income was addressed by the South Carolina Court of Appeals in the Lewis v. Lewis opinion issued on November 14, 2012. In that case, the issue of child support was remanded to the trial court because the order did not have sufficient findings of fact regarding the imputation of income.
You will need an attorney to help you put forth a compelling case that the figure you want to use is the correct figure. Having your income calculated correctly is important whether you are paying or receiving child support.
The amount of time that each parent spends with the children is another important piece of the puzzle. Worksheet A will yield a larger obligation on the part of the payer, based on a standard visitation schedule. Worksheet C, the shared custody worksheet, provides for payment of a lower amount based on increased time spent with the parent paying child support.
Money spent on work related daycare and on the minor child’s health insurance expenses are also important considerations. If a child is kept by a relative, but a daycare expense is claimed, whether or not the expense claimed is actually paid is important. Health insurance costs for the child only are also included. What if the custodial parent wants to use Medicaid and not the available health insurance? A good attorney can bring that to the Court’s attention and likely get the use of the health insurance ordered, and the child support lowered, using the public policy argument of not having persons on Medicaid unnecessarily.
Another important consideration is timing. The Court can only order child support retroactive to the date of the filing of the child support action. So you cannot wait until your child is five years old and expect a big check. And if your child’s other parent is telling you that will happen, and you believe it, you may inadvertently pay more than you should by agreement.
Finally, when does it stop? The general rule is upon the child turning eighteen years old or graduating high school, whichever is later. There are exceptions to that, such as special needs children. In some cases, college expenses can be awarded. Again, being informed is crucial.
All of these areas can be developed by experienced trial counsel. Do not take your position for granted. If you are receiving child support, you want to get as much as the law allows. If you are paying child support, you want to be sure you are not overpaying. The only way to do either is to consider all your options. The very fact that you have a child support case in Family Court indicates that you and the other parent cannot agree on what is fair or how it should be paid. The distrust that brews in most Family Court cases amplifies the need for legal counsel. An attorney can help you be certain that the financial information you are provided is accurate.
As with all legal matters, child support should not be handled without an attorney. Even a difference of $25 per week will amount to $23,400 over eighteen years. A difference of $100 per week will amount to $93,600 over 18 years. We are talking about significant money whether you are paying or receiving child support.