Regardless of whether they were ever legally married, living together without being married, or even if they never lived together, all parents have an obligation to support their children. This podcast offers a general overview of how child support is supposed to work – including the factors influencing amount and duration of child support payable or receivable, “special” or “extraordinary” expenses that go above and beyond what the child support guideline amounts will cover, and the tax issues of child support.
Host: Tanoya Greaves
Speaker: Diana Shepherd, CDFA®, Editorial Director and Co-Founder of Divorce Magazine
Diana Shepherd is the Editorial Director and co-founder of Divorce Magazine and www.DivorceMagazine.com. She is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, an award-winning editor, published author, and a nationally recognized expert on divorce, finance, remarriage, and stepfamily issues. Diana has written and edited hundreds of articles about divorce-related issues since 1996, and she is a frequent lecturer on the topics of divorce and finance – both to local groups and national organizations.
In this podcast, Diana will explain:
- how child support generally works
- how child support payments are calculated – and when those parents usually end
- whether parents can choose to opt-out of the child support guidelines and set up their own agreement
- the issue of “special expenses” that go above and beyond what the child support guideline amounts will cover
- options for co-parents who don’t agree which “special expenses” are both reasonable and necessary for their children.
Of course, this overview of how child support works is general in nature and may not apply to your unique circumstances. Your situation may call for a major divergence from the child support guidelines, so you must consult a family lawyer before agreeing to pay or receive a set amount of child support.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
How Child Support Works
Tanoya Greaves: Welcome to this session on how child support works by The Divorce School. My name is Tanoya Greaves and I’m a facilitator for The Divorce School. The faculty member for this session is Diana Shepherd, who is the editor, director and co founder of Divorce Magazine and www.DivorceMagazine.com. She is Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and an award winning editor, published author and a nationally recognized expert on divorce, remarriage, finance, and step family issues. Diana has written and edited hundreds of articles about divorce-related issues since 1996, and she’s a frequent lecturer on the topics of divorce and finance, both to local groups and national organizations. Thank you for joining us, Diana.
Will you be providing legal advice about child support for our viewers?
Diana Shepherd: As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, or CDFA, I can’t give legal advice. However, I can tell you how spousal and child support generally work, but for specific advice about your own situation, you must consult with a divorce lawyer.
Let’s talk about child support and how it works. First, are all parents obliged to support their children even if they were never legally married?
Regardless of whether or not they were ever legally married, all parents have an obligation to support their children. In situations where the marriage or marriage-like relationship has broken down, the non-custodial parent is usually ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent. The custodial parent is expected to use these funds to pay for the child’s expenses. In this situation, custodial parent means the one that children live with most or all of the time after divorce. The non-custodial parent would have visitation or access rights, which might or might not include a certain number of overnight stays per week or per month.
How is child support calculated? Are there any guidelines for divorcing people to follow?
The amount of child support is based on a number of different factors, including the annual income of each co-parent, the total number of children in the family, and the custody arrangements for the children. If there is one custodial parent, in most jurisdictions this means that the children reside with this parent. more than 60% of the time, however, ask a family law lawyer about the definition of sole physical custody in your area. The state or provincial Child Support Guidelines set out base levels of child support payable for one or more children. The guidelines are intended to cover necessities: food, shelter, clothing, health care, public education, etc.
For more information about the US Child Support Guidelines, see www.SupportGuidelines.com. For more information about the Canadian Child Support Guidelines, see www.Justice.Gc.ca and click on Family Law, then on Child Support.
How long will someone have to pay child support?
Child support is generally payable until the children finish school or are emancipated, meaning that they’ve reached the age of majority left home, gotten married, or dropped out of school. If the children are going to attend college, child support will generally continue until they obtain their degree. In some cases, courts have ordered child support to continue through a second Master’s level degree. Make sure that your divorce agreement states when child support will end, the child’s age, and/or level of education. In the case of a special needs child who will be dependent and living with a parent for the rest of his or her life, child support may be permanent. This is a complicated situation. So make sure you get good legal and financial advice before finalizing your agreement if you have a special needs child.
Can parents agree to pay an amount of child support that’s different from the guidelines you mentioned earlier?
Parents can choose to opt out of the guidelines and set up their own child support agreement as long as it’s considered fair and sufficient for the children’s needs. If you choose to go this route, put your agreement in writing and sign it. This will reduce the risk of misunderstanding later on. It’s easier to enforce a signed agreement than an undocumented verbal agreement. If you and the other parent wish to opt out of the guidelines, you should ask your divorce lawyer how much child support a judge would likely order to be paid in your situation and use that number as a starting point. Before finalizing an agreement, especially if it diverges from the guideline amounts, you should talk to a family lawyer. He or she can help you understand your legal rights and obligations, which guidelines apply to you, how to use those guidelines to calculate a child support amount, and provide the right documents if you go to court. You should also obtain advice from a financial professional, particularly about your ability to pay child support above and beyond the guideline amounts.
There are many expenses related to children. Some are definitely necessities and some might be considered luxuries. Do the guidelines cover all child-related expenses?
Maybe but possibly not. Parents can agree to pay for special expenses that go above and beyond what the child support guidelines amounts will cover. These additional expenses generally need to be considered both necessary and reasonable by both parents. Necessary because they’re in a child’s best interests and reasonable in relation to both parent’s incomes. Special expenses could include items such as childcare expenses that the custodial parent incurs as a result of his or her job, illness or disability, or educational requirements for employment. For instance, returning to college to finish a degree in order to qualify for a job. The portion of the custodial parents medical and dental insurance premiums that provides coverage for the children might also be a special expense. Healthcare that is not covered by insurance can be considered a special expense, including medication, orthodontics, counseling, elective or cosmetic surgery, eye exams, glasses or contact lenses. Extracurricular activities are another example, for instance, fees for music arts, sports trips, also sports equipment, musical instruments, and art supplies will likely be special expenses. Summer camp or enrichment courses, private school or tutoring, post secondary education. As I said, usually this is for a first degree, but it could include a second Master’s level degree.
Does one parent have to pay 100% of the special expenses related to their children? Or can it be split between two parents?
If both parents agree that additional expenses are both reasonable and necessary, then they will usually contribute to them in proportion to their incomes. But they could also agree to an alternate division in which one parent pays anywhere from zero to 100% of the expense in question. Both parents are free to decide if a special expense is reasonable and necessary, and how much each of them will contribute to it. In your divorce agreement, you can list special expenses that you expect to incur today, in the near future, or many years later. For example, you can specify who will pay for what portion of uninsured orthodontic expenses, your child’s daycare, and your children’s college tuition.
I could see how a divorcing couple could have a hard time agreeing which special expenses are absolutely necessary. What options do they have if they don’t agree?
Special expenses are often a hotly contested area. If you and your ex can’t agree on whether an expense is both necessary and reasonable, ask an objective financial professional to analyze your situation and let both of you know whether you can truly afford the additional expense. You should also speak to a family lawyer about how judges in your area are ruling on special expenses and how the judge would likely rule if you took your case to court. If you still can’t reach an agreement, you could hire a divorce mediator to help you resolve your differences, ask your lawyer to advise you, and, as a lost resort, take your case to court and ask a judge to decide which additional child-related expenses are both reasonable and necessary.
Tanoya Greaves: I sure hope our viewers can come to an agreement on these special expenses and stay out of court. Then thank you for the information you have given us today about child support. Our faculty member for this session has been Diana Shepherd, the editorial director of Divorce Magazine and www.DivorceMagazine.com. I hope you have found this session helpful.