Child support is an important issue in many divorce and legal separation cases. Guidelines have been established to help courts and parents settle levels of support awards.
The guidelines are based on extensive economic data. There are a number of variables that complicate a court’s calculation, including the following:
A parent’s financial resources and needs are central to a child support award. However, the development of a support order takes into account more than just the financial status of each party. Indiana law places a duty upon parents to contribute to the standard of living of their children. It is important to consult with an experienced Indiana family law attorney who can help you accurately identify all income to be considered in a child support calculation and ultimately craft an argument that results in the most favorable outcome for you and your spouse.
To determine the amount of a basic child support obligation, both parties’ weekly gross incomes are combined to create a combined weekly adjusted income. This number is then multiplied by the Guideline support schedules for the appropriate number of children. The result is the basic child support obligation for that household. The number of children is important because, at constant levels of income, expenditures for two children are about 1.5 times those of one child.
If either party’s weekly adjusted income is less than the federal minimum wage, the court may make a finding that the basic child support obligation should be modified based on a determination of potential income. This is accomplished by evaluating the employment potential of each party. Factors to consider include occupational qualifications, educational attainment, literacy, age, health, criminal record, or other barriers to employment and prevailing job opportunities and earnings levels in the community.
While the Guidelines recommend that spousal maintenance (alimony) be set at a percentage of the obligor’s weekly adjusted income, this is not a requirement and must be determined by statute in accordance with Indiana law. In practice, it is often best to leave a portion of the obligor’s income available for child support before ordering spousal maintenance.
It is also important to recognize that even where the obligor’s irregular income, such as overtime, bonuses, etc., is included in the support calculation, he or she must still be able to prove that those irregular amounts are truly and regularly received. This is especially crucial when determining the lump sum payment amount which would be made in lieu of ongoing periodic payments.
The Indiana Child Support Guidelines were developed to help courts better understand what level of child support should be awarded in a specific case. The Guidelines establish a presumptive amount of weekly child support that should be awarded to the noncustodial parent. The Guidelines also include a worksheet that helps judges, practitioners, and parents calculate the presumptive amount of child support. The worksheet includes a detailed listing of anticipated average weekly spending on children by both parents. The expected expenditures are divided proportionally between the two parents, and the result is the basic child support obligation.
When determining the actual amount of basic child support to be paid, the court must consider the child’s educational needs, standard of living, and other special considerations. The court can also award additional child support for extraordinary costs, such as emergency medical expenses or extracurricular activities. Generally, these additional child support payments should not exceed 15% of the basic child support amount.
In developing the Guidelines, a great deal of research and economic understanding was put into the matter of what it actually takes to provide a child with an adequate standard of living. Many household expenditures are intertwined, and it is difficult to determine what proportion of the overall costs of a family are attributable to the children. For this reason, the Indiana Child Support Guidelines rely largely on research that estimates the percentage of parental income spent on children in intact households.
The resulting Indiana Child Support Guidelines are designed to meet both federal and state requirements. This includes the requirement that a child support award must be adjusted periodically to reflect changes in the cost of living. This process is referred to as “revision.” In addition, the child support guidelines were specifically designed to consider that spousal maintenance is separate and distinct from child support obligation.
Ultimately, if you are seeking custody of your children, it must be because you love your children and want to give them the best possible life, not because you are angry at the other parent or because you want revenge. The court is looking for a cooperative spirit and will not be inclined to award you primary physical custody if it believes that you are only doing so in order to get revenge or to hurt the other parent.
Extraordinary Medical Costs
The Indiana Child Support Guidelines were first recommended for use by the Judicial Conference in 1987. At the time of their adoption in 1989, the use of the guidelines became mandatory in all state court proceedings involving child support. The purpose of the guidelines was to establish a policy and a procedure for establishing levels of support that will provide children with an appropriate standard of living, consistent with parents’ ability to contribute to it. In addition, the guidelines are designed to reduce controversies about child support and expedite case resolution.
The basic principle underlying the Guidelines is that the child should receive the proportion of parental income that would have been spent on the child in an intact household. However, because household spending on behalf of children is intertwined with spending on behalf of adults for most expenditure categories, it is difficult to determine the proportion of parental income spent on a child in individual cases without exhaustive financial information. Fortunately, authoritative economic studies provide estimates of average amounts of spending on children in intact households, which can be used as a basis for setting support awards.
Initially, the total of the basic child support obligation is calculated by adding together the gross incomes of both parents after certain adjustments are made. A percentage share of each parent’s income is then determined, and this amount is taken to the support tables (referred to in the Guidelines as the Guideline Schedules for Weekly Support Payments) to determine the anticipated average weekly spending on a child. The cost of work-related childcare expenses and the weekly costs of health insurance premiums are also added to this figure.
It should be emphasized that the Guidelines do not address the issue of maintenance in a divorce action. Spousal maintenance is governed by Indiana law and must be set in accordance with that statute. Nevertheless, the Guidelines do recommend that child support be established before an award of maintenance is considered.
The guidelines also provide a rebuttable presumption that the amount calculated on the worksheet is the correct amount of support to be awarded. There are a number of factors that can be used to deviate from this presumed amount, including extraordinary medical expenses. However, the court should carefully consider each of these factors before making a deviation from the guidelines.
Parenting Time Credits
The Indiana Child Support Guidelines incorporate economic research showing how much raising children costs. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist judges and practitioners in establishing appropriate levels of award.
The most important information to be determined is each parent’s income level. The court will also need to establish the amount of any extraordinary medical expenses. Then the court will need to decide how much time each parent spends with the child(ren). Once that is done, the remaining amount of the basic child support obligation must be apportioned between parents. This will be done by assigning a percentage of the total cost of raising the child(ren) to each parent’s share of parenting time.
It is important that each party understands that a credit for “duplicated” expenses must be applied as part of the calculation. Those are expenditures that are not transferred with the child(ren) from one parent’s household to another, such as shelter costs. This credit is calculated on a Parenting Time Credit Worksheet.
Duplicated expense amounts are added to the basic child support obligation and then apportioned between parents based on their weekly adjusted incomes. The percentages that are assigned to each parent’s share of the basic child support obligation are then placed on Line 2 of the Child Support Obligation Worksheet. The resulting figure is the basic child support obligation for each parent.
It is necessary to apportion the basic child support obligation between both parties, even if the noncustodial parent has zero overnights each year. This is because the custodial parent’s share is presumed to be spent directly on the children. However, if there is close to equal parenting time and the custodial parent has a significantly higher income than the noncustodial parent, then the application of the parenting time credit should result in a monetary amount being paid from the custodial parent to the noncustodial parent absent grounds for a deviation. The court will need to explain its reasoning for deviating from the parenting time credit.