Whether a client is filing a divorce, legitimation case, change of custody, paternity case or some other similar piece of litigation, child support is going to be a major issue. The client with custody of the child/ren wants to know how much he or she will be receiving so they can plan a family budget. The client who is expected to pay support will be attempting to figure out how he or she will fit this unexpected expense into their monthly finances.
I will be writing a series of posts addressing some of the more common issues that arise in computing a person’s child support obligation. The first topic is probably the most obvious:
The Incomes of Parents and Child Support
This seems like common sense, but it can become more complicated than you would expect. What if someone is unemployed? What if someone is disabled? What if you are self-employed or work on commission? Do housing allowances or a company car somehow factor in? Do military BAH and BAS payments count toward gross income?
Everyone will be attributed an income in the Child Support Worksheet adopted by the Court in a given case. If you are unemployed, it is likely that the Court will “impute” an income to you, meaning they will set an income figure that they believe you are capable of earning. How does a judge do this? Typically the Court looks at a person’s education level, past employment, past earnings and the effort the person is putting into finding a job. Many times the Court will simply attribute a full-time minimum wage income to an unemployed person.
Courts are always aware that someone might be intentionally underemployed at the time they go to court. I refer to this as “sandbagging” on one’s income. Corporate officers who are suddenly working in sales at the time their case goes to court. Self-employed individuals who have made a nice living for years suddenly having the worst year of their careers. Someone who is gainfully employed who suddenly decides to go back to school fulltime. Or someone who has legitimately lost his or her job who is spending the day sitting on the sofa and watching TV instead of searching for employment. People in these situations may have their child support assessed at a higher income than they are actually earning because the Court feels they could be doing better for themselves, but are choosing not to.
Disability Child Support Cases
Disability income is a bit trickier. Many people assume that individuals receiving disability payments are exempted from paying child support, that the child support laws do not apply to them. Not true. The Child Support Guidelines do protect $ 900.00 of a person’s gross monthly income for that individual to live on. If you make more than $ 900.00 per month from employment or disability payments, then you WILL be paying some amount of child support. Also, the Court will consider the extent of a person’s disability. Some people on disability are capable of part-time employment, and that may be a source of dispute when it comes to computing a disabled person’s gross monthly income.
How Do Commission Wages Affect your Case?
If you are self-employed or work on commission, then you have good months and you have bad months. The Court will avoid basing child support on the best month you’ve ever had or the worst month you’ve ever had. The Court will do its best to set a figure based on a person’s average gross monthly income. A client can help this process by producing tax returns and paystubs that show annual earnings. Take the annual earnings and divide by 12 and you’ve got the approximate amount that the Court will use.
What about Housing and other Allowances?
Lastly, for military and corporate clients who receive housing allowances, automobile allowances, or allowances for other living expenses, those payments are considered a part of your gross monthly income. If the payment puts money in your pocket or pays one of your monthly living expenses, then it will likely be considered a part of your gross monthly income. Funds received for professional expenses are less likely to be considered part of your personal gross monthly income: fuel reimbursements for truck drivers, money to go toward uniforms for the military, gas for a company vehicle used for company purposes, etc.
Next time, we’ll discuss the expenses that can affect child support computations.