Phone: 256-927-7490

Can I Adjust My Child Support

Jan 26

This question was sent via e-mail last week: “I believe I am paying too much for child support, how can I check, and when can I try to have my payment changed?”

 The first step in establishing or modifying child support is, of course, to calculate it accurately. Child Support calculations are regulated by Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration. For general purposes, child support calculations depend on a fairly simple mathematical calculation which the court will rarely stray from.

 Child support is primarily based on both parents individual “gross income.”  Gross income is sometimes called “before tax income” or the amount you see on your check before any other deductions are taken out. Legally, gross income is income from any source, not only your wages, but also any commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment-insurance benefits, disability-insurance benefits, gifts, prizes, etc. Gross income does not, however, include child support received for other children or benefits received from public-assistance programs like food stamps. The only amounts usually deducted from a parent’s gross income is amounts paid for child support to another child or other children, (“pre-existing child support”) or payment of alimony to prior spouse, (“pre-existing alimony payments”).

 After the parents’ gross incomes are calculated and any pre-existing child support and/or alimony payments are taken out, these totals are added together to make up the parents’ “combined gross income.” There is a chart that accompanies Rule 32 which shows what the parents basic child support obligation will be based on their combined gross income and how many children are involved. The number on this chart makes up the “basic child support amount.”  Expenses for work-related child care costs and health insurance costs are then added to the basic child support amount, resulting in a “combined total child support obligation.” The basic child support obligation is then divided between the parents based on his or her “percentage share of their total gross income.”  For example, if mom’s gross income is $2,000 per month and dad’s is 3,000 per month, then mom’s percentage share of the total income is 40% and dad’s share is 60%. After the total child support obligation is multiplied by each parents’ percentage share of the total income, this gives you each parent’s individual child support obligation. The non-custodial, or non-primary parent pays the amount determined by this calculation, minus any amount he or she pays for health insurance. Simple right?

 To get your child support calculated correctly, it really is best to see a lawyer, who will have access to the forms and tables necessary to make these calculations or there is a useful child support calculator online at http://www.guidelinesoftware.com/Ala1A.asp.  Be sure to check out Part II of this article next week, where I will discuss what doesn’t go into a child support calculation, when you can adjust child support amounts, and when it is possible to deviate from the recommended amount.

 This column is intended for general information purposes only. It is not intended, nor should it be construed as personal legal advice. The answers to most legal problems rely on the specific facts of your situation; therefore, it is very important that you personally see a lawyer when these situations arise.

 

Last week, I discussed how to properly calculate child support. To briefly review, child support calculations are usually made up of the parents’ joint income minus any pre-existing child support or alimony payments, with an adjustment for health insurance costs, and work-related day care expenses. What many people do not realize, however, is that other factors rarely come into play.  For example, if child support is established on the mother’s income, and she remarries, the new husband’s income does not work to change child support. Further, if the parties have additional children in the future, existing child support will rarely be affected.  For example, if dad is paying a certain amount for child support, remarries and has three children with his new wife, the money he has to spend to take care of his new family does not factor in to reduce his existing child support.

Child support rules note some situations for deviating from the amount suggested by the guidelines. Reasons for deviating from the guidelines may include the following: 1) shared physical custody or visitation rights providing for periods of custody substantially in excess of those customarily ordered by the court; 2) Extraordinary costs of transportation for purposes of visitation borne substantially by one parent; 3) Expenses of college education incurred prior to a child’s reaching the age of majority, or 19 years old; 4) Assets of, or unearned income received by or on behalf of, a child or children; and 5) Other facts or circumstances that the court finds contribute to the best interest of the child or children for whom support is being determined. Again, the existence of one or more of these reasons does not require the court to deviate from the guidelines, but the judge may consider the reason or reasons in deciding whether to deviate from the guidelines. Because judges will rarely deviate from the amount calculated under the guidelines, you need to seek the advice of an attorney if you feel any of these reasons for deviation apply.

Child support rules also provide for when child support can be modified or changed. Under Rule 32, a parent seeking modification of child support must prove that a “material change in circumstances” has occurred. A material change in circumstances usually means there is at least a ten percent difference between the existing child-support amount and the new amount. Many people believe that you have to wait a certain period of time (I usually hear three years) before the court will review child support, but this is not a requirement under the rules.

Even if there is a ten percent change, however, the judge is not required to modify child support.  In fact, the judge has full discretion to deny a modification even when a ten percent variation is present. For example, a judge will rarely decrease child support if she finds that a parent is “voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.” A parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed when he or she unjustifiably quits a job, or accepts a job paying less. If the judge determines that either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, she will usually estimate the income the parent would have if he were not voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, and use that amount in the child support calculation.

This column is intended for general information purposes only. It is not intended, nor should it be construed as personal legal advice. The answers to most legal problems rely on the specific facts of your situation; therefore, it is very important that you personally see a lawyer when these situations arise.