Child Support: What You Need to Know
Dealing with the child support system through the court is easy in some ways and complicated in others. If you do not understand your order, you could be paying too much or not receiving what your kids deserve. For the most part, child support is a numbers game. There is a computer program in which those numbers are plugged into a formula; the amount you make is entered, the amount the other parent makes is entered, how much you pay for child care and medical insurance are entered, and whether you are caring for any other children beyond those included in the case in question. The court attributes the number of OVERNIGHTS each parent has, which is also a factor in the formula, and then the computer program tells you how much support should be paid by whom and to whom. Easy, right? So, here are a few things most people don’t know.
1) Ordinary medical amount- the person who is paying support is paying an ordinary medical amount every month. That amount is to cover ordinary medical expenses for your children, such as co-pays, prescriptions, and the like. The paying parent (payer) is given credit for paying that amount on a regular basis, so the parent receiving support (payee) has to spend $403 for one child, $807 for two children, and $1210 for three children OUT OF POCKET before the paying parent has to contribute to medical costs. Even then, their contribution is a percentage, based on what the formula stated they should be paying for out-of-pocket medical expenses, so the payor and payee will each bear some responsibility for out-of-pocket medical expenses beyond the ordinary medical amounts.
2) Motions are required- Everything you do in the court has to be done by motion. Many people think that they are required to report a change in income to the Friend of the Court; however, that is generally not accurate. You are required to notify the Friend of the Court of a change in your employer, so they know where to send the garnishment. If you notify the Friend of the Court that your income has changed or that your child’s other parent has had a change in income, they are not going to do anything, unless you file a motion and have a hearing. Most Judgments/Orders state that one must notify the FOC within 21 days regarding any change in address (for either parent or the children), employment, insurance, driver’s license/ID number, and Social Security number; however, the notification of that information does not mean the FOC will change anything to do with child support; they will simply update the file. Therefore, if you have a kid who no longer attends daycare and want that reflected in your child support, file a motion. If you lost your job and want that reflected in your child support, file a motion. Notifying the Friend of the Court in writing DOES NOT change a child support order.
3) Step-parent contributions do not count: If a step-parent is paying for health insurance, that number is not factored into support. If the step-parent makes significant income, that is not factored into support. Step-parents have no legal obligation to support stepchildren. Any contribution they make is strictly voluntary and not credited to either side.
4) Public assistance prevents you from making agreements: If the person receiving support is on any type of public assistance, child support must be paid in the amount that is recommended by the Child Support Guidelines. If there is no public assistance, you can agree to whatever amount you want, you can agree to have ordinary medical and daycare expenses, or to do none of those.
5) You are supposed to be offered a “free” support review every three years. As I stated above, if you want to change support, you must file a motion. Filing a motion costs money. However, every three years you are supposed to be given the opportunity to have a support review without filing a motion and paying the fee. If it has been more than three years and you want a free review, contact your local Friend of the Court in writing to request your free review.
6) The payer has no right to know how the money is spent: Many parents believe that support should be directly spent on the children in the form of food, clothing, and other physical, material needs. The child support formula was created from an analysis of the cost of raising children overall, not just the material needs. The person who receives support can use it in any way they determine appropriate, and yes, that includes buying cigarettes. If they spend all of their support money on cigarettes, then they are spending their own money on housing, electric, gas to drive the children, food, etc. Child support money is simply pooled together with any other household money.
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal advice. If you have further questions or want to consult with someone who can discuss your specific child support case, please call the Law Office of Stacy Flanery at (231) 629-8130 for an appointment.