There are few legal obligations a parent has that are more important than child support. This money helps provide for your child’s well-being, education, growth, and safety after a divorce. If you are a parent receiving child support or you are a parent paying child support, it is important to know how that obligation is calculated, and what can be done if you feel the calculation is too high or too low.
Child support is calculated using a formula that takes in to account both parents’ income (or “ability to earn income” if a parent is not working at the moment), costs for work-related child care (daycare), costs for healthcare premiums, and various deductions. Income, for purposes of calculating child support, does not necessarily mean only the income that is taxable. Alabama law is very clear that simply because the IRS does not consider certain funds as “income” does not mean those funds can be excluded from child support calculations. For instance, housing subsidies for military personnel is not a taxable benefit, but the amount of that subsidy is considered “income” for calculating child support. However, certain forms of disability income are not included for child support calculations, such as SSI.
Income also means “an ability to earn.” This definition allows a judge to impute an income to you that you may not be actually earning because you are temporarily unemployed, working fewer hours than are available, or working a job for much lower pay than an available job in your field with a higher salary. An inability to have a paying job is not an excuse to refuse to pay child support. In that case, a judge will usually impute to you an income of a full-time worker making minimum wage, roughly $1,250 per month.
If you are required to pay child support and lose your job, you must file paperwork immediately to ask that your child support obligation be stopped. A judge cannot undo back child support even if you show that you had been laid off during that time, so you must act quickly in order to avoid racking up large child support debt.
The cost of daycare, after-school care, or a babysitter can be included in the child support calculations. However, daycare rates are capped, depending on the age of your child, the type of facility they attend, and where you live. Click the link below for specific details and note that these are the costs per child, not total.
If the child’s grandmother, grandfather, other family member or friend babysits the child for free, then there will not be a cost included in the child support. Do not enroll your child in daycare just to increase your ex’s child support and do not pull your child out of daycare just to save money on child support. Both of these are great ways to make a judge mad and possibly find yourself in jail for contempt of court.
Your child’s health is vitally important and the state legislature wanted to make sure that costs for healthcare were included for child support. It is so important, in fact, that judges are permitted to order a parent to pay for insurance if available through an employer at a rate of 10 percent or less than the parent’s gross income. If your child is enrolled through Medicaid or TriCare and you do not pay any premiums, then you will not have any additional costs added to your child support.
Determining the cost of your child’s insurance premiums seems easy but can be confusing. If you have enrolled them on their own private plan, the monthly cost is simply added into the calculations. But, if you pay for family plan coverage, your premium may be the same whether your family size is two or 10. Unless your insurance company charges you a different rate for each additional family member on your plan, the entire family care premium can be added for child support purposes. Uninsured costs are usually split between the parties equally.
After the security of knowing your children are insured, the primary benefit of paying for your kids’ health insurance is the deduction in child support received by the non-custodial parent. A parent responsible for paying child support receives a 100 percent deduction of that support equal to the cost of any health insurance premium paid by that parent.
There are many more aspects of child support that should be addressed here. Click here to read Part 2: Deviating from the Calculations.