How much you pay in child support shouldn’t depend on what judge happens to hear your case. But not that long ago, that’s the way things were. In order to prevent that from happening, and to ensure a high degree of consistency in child support awards, states adopted child support guidelines. While the factors vary slightly from state to state, parental income is the major factor in determining a support amount. But there are other elements a court can also consider.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with your spending a few weeks at the beach with the kids. The answer is that one of the other elements the court looks at in determining support is the time you spend with the children. When you add that to the mix, the process of awarding child support becomes a balancing act.
The creators of the guidelines understood that parents paying child support would incur some additional expenses—like food and transportation—whenever the children were staying with them. Likewise, the parent with whom the children primarily reside wouldn’t have those expenses when the children weren’t there.
Considering that, you might be tempted to say that you shouldn’t have to pay child support while you have the kids. Well, not so fast. Remember that the other parent still has continuing expenses, such as the monthly rent or mortgage payments needed to keep a roof over the child’s head. And part of your child support payment goes toward those permanent monthly costs.
So what the courts normally do is take the anticipated number of overnight visits you’ll have with the children during the year, and plug that figure into a rather complicated formula. The resulting child support number should be one that takes into account your expenses for your overnights, while still providing the other parent with money to handle the permanent costs involved with raising the children.
Under those circumstances, your child support payments will likely remain consistent during the year, regardless of whether the children are with you or not. However, this doesn’t mean that exceptions can’t crop up.
Let’s say, for example, your parenting (visitation) plan calls for you to have the kids for two weeks during the summer. The court was aware of that when setting child support. But what if, for whatever reason, you end up taking them for six weeks? In that scenario, and depending on the laws in your state, you might be able to request that the court modify child support and reduce your payment for that additional period.
Flashing red warning: you can’t simply take it upon yourself to reduce or stop your child support payments. You must have the court’s permission. If you attempt to do it on your own or simply stop paying, you could end up being held in contempt of court, possibly resulting in a fine or even jail time.
What you need to do is file a motion (written request for relief) with the court to modify custody, in the hope of obtaining a written order permitting an abatement of support. Even if the other parent agrees to reduce support, you still need a court order, although obtaining it will probably be easier if both parents agree.
As a practical matter, parents who pay child support might not be able to stop payments on their own anyway. That’s because, more often than not, child support is automatically taken out of your paycheck, and your employer can’t stop deducting it without a court order.
If you pay support through your county probation department, and you stop sending the money, they won’t care what your reason is. All you’ll end up doing is racking up arrears. And at some point, the probation department is going to haul you into court.
Similarly, in the unlikely event you happen to be paying the other parent directly, missed payments could result in that parent filing a motion with the court to hold you in contempt. And, depending on the circumstances, the court might order you to pay the other parent’s legal fees incurred in bringing the motion.
Child support issues can be quite complicated. Consider consulting a knowledgeable family law attorney to learn about your rights and responsibilities.