Child Support Calculations, Part II

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

Our previous post, Child Support Calculations Part I, assumes you have perfect information on the inputs to the calculations. That is, you know exactly what your income and your co-parent's income is. But for many of us, income can vary widely for both legit and illegitimate reasons.

For example, if you work in sales and get paid on commission, you might have good years or bad years. I worked on Wall Street, and most of my income came in an annual bonus lump sum, which varied widely from year to year. These would be legitimate reasons your income varies from year to year.



If you are a waiter or bartender, you probably earn a large percent of your income in cash tips that are likely underreported on your tax returns and pay stubs. If you own your own small business, you may be incentivized to “cook the books” to make it looks less profitable for income tax and child support calculations. These would be illegitimate reasons your income varies from year to year.


For these reasons, you will be asked to show several years of income and expense history so the court can determine an average level of income. If they only looked at one calendar year, some people might try to play games by diverting some of their income into the last year or next year's pay period. Expect to be asked for at least three years' worth of tax returns, pay stubs, credit cards, bank statements, investment accounts, your business financial records; it’s all fair game.


Even gifts or inheritance from your wealthy uncle can count as income. If the opposing attorney is any good, they will leave no stone unturned to ensure you are not hiding anything. I remember being asked for my mortgage application documents because when you apply for credit, you are not likely to make yourself look poorer than you really are.


The point is, be truthful from day one about your income and expenses because you are not likely to get away with anything. If you are caught trying to hide something, you can be sure the judge will hold it against you in a trial.

You may also be thinking that it is not fair to calculate child support payments once and have them fixed at that level for the next eighteen years since your income may legitimately change over the years. You are correct. Child support payments can be changed over time as circumstances change. We will come back to revisit this topic in a future post.


In many cases, the parties are wise enough to agree on legal custody, visitation rights, and a parenting plan, but they get stuck on the child support number. Your attorney might say you should get X while the other attorney thinks they should only pay Y. If you cannot compromise on the number, then sometimes the parties will go to trial, asking the judge just to settle this one last remaining item.


While not preferable to a full settlement, this kind of “partial settlement” is better than nothing because at least you get a customized parenting plan that works well for your child. The money issue will be settled easily enough by the judge. Just remember, you may be haggling over a few hundred dollars a month, which equals only a few thousand dollars a year. Is that worth the tens of thousands in legal bills you may pay in preparing for a trial? Is it worth the stress of a trial? Do yourself a favor and just compromise down the middle on the child support number if it means avoiding a trial.


One last comment about child support payments. People who pay them almost always feel they are too high, and people who receive them almost always feel they are too low. Like any good negotiation, this mutual unhappiness means it is a fair outcome.


- Jessica & Jim



Disclaimer

Jim and Jessica Braz are not lawyers. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give legal advice on this website. Furthermore, child custody laws, child support calculations, and family law, in general, vary from state to state. Be sure to consult an attorney in the appropriate state for your custody litigation. ​


Jim and Jessica Braz are not doctors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give medical advice on this website. Be sure to consult your doctor on your specific medical situation. ​


Jim and Jessica Braz are not licensed therapists, mediators, or counselors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, you should consult licensed professionals as needed.


The advice given on this website does not hold Jim and Jessica Braz legally liable for any adverse outcomes you may have from following their advice.

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