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How Do Courts Determine Child Support?

Q: How is the amount of child support determined?
A: Child support is calculated according to a formula written into state law. That formula combines the father’s and mother’s gross income. There are certain allowable deductions from each parent's gross income. These deductions include the sum of local income tax actually paid, any child or spousal support order for other children or former spouses, and the value of a federal dependency exemption for each dependent of his or her household (not including the dependents for whom child support has been ordered). For example, if you are remarried and have a child by your new marriage, $3800 (for the tax year 2012) will be deducted from your gross income before calculating child support of your earlier marriage. Additionally, if there is an order for spousal support, the annual sum of spousal support is deducted from the spousal support payor’s gross income and added to the income of the recipient. 

The total of this adjusted gross income of both parents is then applied to a chart, which identifies the amount of support required to raise children in their parents’ income category. The paying parent will pay his or her pro-rated share of that charted amount. For example, if Mom earns $10,000 per year, and Dad earns $30,000, the combined gross is $40,000. For one child, the charted amount is approximately $6,500 of child support per year. If Dad is the parent paying support, he must pay $4,875 per year, or 75 percent of the charted amount, because he earns 75 percent of the total combined parental income.
 
Q: What about day care and health insurance?
A: Factored into the charted amount of child support is the cost of
work-related or education-related day care expense and major medical insurance coverage for the child. Thus, if the charted amount is $4,000 child support per year, but Mom also pays $1500 per year in day care to go to work, and dad also pays $500 per year for medical insurance to cover the child, the total child support cost is $6,000 per year. It is this total cost which is divided between the parents on their relative share of earnings.
 
The court will typically order one or both parents to carry health coverage, if available at reasonable cost. If no affordable coverage is available, then parents will be ordered to share in some way the costs of health care. Uncovered medical costs are usually ordered to be paid in pro-rated shares of the parents’ income, after the residential parent pays the first $100 per year.
 
Though federal tax law provides the dependency exemption to the custodial parent, state courts have the power to allocate the exemption to the non-custodial parent if it will result in a net tax savings that will benefit the child.
 
Q: What is a cash medical support order?
A: There is another component to every child support order, known as the cash medical support order. In addition to the monthly child support obligation, there must be an order pertaining to medical insurance and uncovered medical costs for the children. Thus, all child support orders contain two separate obligations: one due while there is medical insurance for the child and the other due if there is no medical insurance. The latter order becomes effective immediately if health coverage is lost or if it does not exist at the initiation of the support order. When there is no health insurance for the child, there is actually an additional sum of money ordered to be paid for uncovered medicals. That sum is the cash medical support order.

Q: How long can my children expect to receive support?
A: Child support is payable until the child reaches the age of 18, or until he or she graduates from high school, whichever is later. If a child is no longer attending high school, however, and is not living with or dependent upon a parent (i.e., married), then child support may end before the age of 18. If a child is more than 18 years of age and still attends high school, support will continue until the child has completed high school, up to age 19 unless otherwise ordered or agreed.

Special rules apply to handicapped children who will not be expected to be self-sufficient by the age of 18. If a child is handicapped, child support can be ordered to be paid well beyond the child's 18th birthday.

The court's jurisdiction to order child support ends at age 18, with the exception of handicapped children and those still in high school after age 18. This is true even when a child over 18 is entirely dependent upon his parents while attending college. If, however, parents agree in their divorce decree to support a child beyond the age of 18, such as to pay for college, then the court can enforce that agreement.

For children born out of wedlock, support generally is due from the date of birth to the date of "emancipation" (age 18 or independence), only after the fatherhood of the child is legally determined.

10/1/2012

Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by Pamela MacAdams, an attorney with the Cleveland firm of Morganstern, MacAdams & DeVito Co., L.P.A.

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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