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  • Writer's pictureAnderson Cullen

Child Support Calculations

Families with children vary significantly in their structure. In many cases, the children’s parents either live together as a couple or peacefully co-parent their children as separate individuals without the involvement of a court. However, sometimes parents end up in court to obtain a divorce or resolve disputes regarding the custody and support of their children. In these cases, child support calculations become a major consideration.

How is Child Support Calculated?

In Alabama, child support is calculated using a state-provided formula, often referred to as the child support guidelines. This formula factors considerations such as the number of children, the incomes of each legal parent, and certain childcare expenses to determine a total child support obligation. Each parent’s individual obligation is that parent’s proportionate share of the total child support obligation, considering what percentage that parent’s income represents of the two parents’ combined total income. Each parent is then credited for certain childcare costs that parent pays to determine an adjusted child support obligation.

For example, consider a divorcing couple who have two children together. One parent makes $1,256 each month, while the other parent makes $3,940 each month. For simplicity, neither parent has work-related childcare costs or healthcare coverage costs for the children. Using this information, the total child support obligation, as determined by the state formula, is $1,210 per month. Because the first parent’s income represents roughly 24% of the two parents’ combined income, that parent’s proportionate share of the child support obligation is 24% of $1,210, or $290. The second parent’s income represents roughly 76% of the parents’ combined income, resulting in a child support obligation of $920.

After the adjusted child support obligation for each parent is calculated, each parent’s income is assessed to determine whether it is sufficient to support the adjusted child support obligation. If the parent’s income is low, the parent’s child support obligation may be lowered to reflect the parent’s limited financial means.

Returning to the above example, the first parent, earning $1,256 per month, can have a maximum child support obligation of $234, based on the state-provided formula. Because this parent’s calculated child support obligation of $290 is more than the maximum of $234, this parent’s child support obligation is reduced to the maximum of $234. The second parent, earning $3,940 per month, can have a maximum child support obligation of $2,515. Because this parent’s calculated child support obligation of $920 is less than the maximum of $2,515, this parent’s child support obligation is not reduced.

The child support obligation calculated using these guidelines is generally viewed to be the appropriate amount and will often be incorporated into a court order regarding child support. In this order, the parent who does not have primary physical custody of the children will generally be ordered to pay child support to the other under the assumption that the other parent will be paying a large portion of the childcare expenses.

Do the Child Support Guidelines Have to Be Followed?

While the child support obligation computed with the child support guidelines is presumed to be correct, a different amount may be used in certain circumstances. For example, if the parents have a true 50/50 split on parenting time, where the children spend half of their time with each parent, the court may determine that neither parent needs to pay child support. This option is based on the idea that an even 50/50 split on parenting time will result in an appropriate split on childcare costs because each parent will be paying the childcare expenses incurred during the children’s time with that parent.

Parents can also exercise more control over how child support is handled in their case if the parents can amicably resolve their case through a settlement agreement. However, even in this situation, parents do not have complete control. Instead, a judge must approve the settlement agreement, meaning that there must be a justification for the deviation from the child support guidelines.

If you have a case involving a child support dispute or would like more information, contact Anderson Cullen at (469) 559-8657 or to set up a consultation. Every situation is different, and no strategy works in every case. Together, we can figure out the right approach for your situation.

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