February 9, 2019

The Child Support Guidelines, Part Two of Child Support and Divorce

The Connecticut “Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines” are designed to provide a relatively simple method for determining child support.  They reflect the State’s assumption of the amount that divorced parents should spend each week for the basic needs of their child or children based on their combined net weekly income.  A child’s basic needs include a share of the cost of family food, housing and transportation, the cost of clothing, personal care, school supplies and the like.

The calculation starts by deducting from the parents’ weekly gross income certain costs, such as income taxes, social security or mandatory retirement contributions, health insurance premiums and union dues, that the State deems to be “mandatory.”  The result is the net income used to determine the guideline support amount.  Gross income is often not easily determinable and must be estimated or assumed where there is, for example, in-kind compensation (use of a company car) or compensation that is highly variable (bonuses or commissions).  Parents are often surprised that the net amount used in the guidelines may be higher than the take home amount because the guidelines don’t consider things like voluntary retirement contributions, payroll parking deductions, or over withholding of income tax to calculate the net.

Here is an example for a family with a combined net weekly income of $2,500 with one child.  The guidelines say that the total child support for the one child is $377 per week. (If there were two children it would be $561.)  The parents would share that cost based on the percentages of the total net income – if the one parent’s net were $1,500 per week that parent’s share would be $226 (60% of $377) and the share of the other would be $151 (40% of $377).  The noncustodial parent pays their share to the custodial parent.  The custodial parent makes their contribution by paying the child’s expenses directly.

In addition to the child support amount based on the guidelines, parents also must share the cost of the child’s medical and dental expenses that aren’t covered by insurance and child care.  The percentages are calculated using net income after taking the weekly child support obligations into account.

While use of the guidelines is mandatory in all divorce cases, the support amount is only a starting point.  Special rules apply for low income parents, parents with children from prior (but not subsequent) relationships and parents whose combined net is greater than $4,000 per week.  Courts also have the authority to require parents to pay additional amounts such as for health insurance, special extracurricular activities, or private school if justified by the parent’s ability to pay and the child’s needs.

The guidelines also contain a list of reasons why the child support amount can deviate, up or down, from the guideline amount.  A common one is where there is a shared custody arrangement so that children live about equally with each parent. Another is where the child has special needs or unusually high medical expenses.

As you can see, in many cases, there is potential conflict and the need for negotiation and advocacy in applying the guidelines.  Adequate legal advice and representation can help to achieve a child support amount that is fair to all in a particular situation.

This article first appeared in the February 7, 2019 edition of The Cheshire Citizen, and RJ Media Group publication.  It is the second in a two part series on Child Support and Divorce. 

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