Child support is among the simpler issues that family law attorneys handle. Or is it… As is often the case with legal matters, when calculating child support, the devil is in the details and this tends to complicate cases involving the calculation of child support.
If we lived in a vacuum, then it would be simple to calculate child support. First of all, unlike alimony, in child support cases we have a child support calculator that allows us to enter several inputs and we are given a resulting amount—this is the amount of child support that applies to a specific child custody case. Making matters even simpler, there are only a handful of inputs that we must use in order to perform a child support calculation. Simple enough, right? Not so fast.
Child support matters are governed by Chapter 50 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Specifically, sub-chapters 50.4, 50.5 ,50.6, 50.7 and 50.9. You can find those sections in their entirety here: https://www.ncleg.gov/Laws/GeneralStatuteSections/Chapter50
The North Carolina Legislature has set forth Child Support Guidelines that give detailed guidance on how to calculate child support. Those Guidelines are lengthy and can be found here: https://ncchildsupport.com/ecoa/cseGuideLineDetails.htm Note that these Guidelines are periodically updated, and it is important to talk with an experienced family law attorney about your child support case in order to be sure to apply the most current iteration of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines.
Let’s start with the child support calculator. In reality, we have three separate calculators, which are referred to as “worksheets.” Worksheet A applies when the parents operate under a primary physical custody schedule. Worksheet B applies when the parents operate under a joint physical custody or shared physical custody schedule. Finally, Worksheet C applies when the parents have a split physical custody schedule. The meaning of each of these custody schedules is somewhat detailed and will be discussed in a later post. A family law attorney will look closely at the facts of a particular case and determine which child support calculator should be used.
Once you have chosen the appropriate child support calculator, the next step is to enter the necessary inputs. Depending on which child support calculator applies to your case, the following inputs may or may not apply:
- How many minor children the parties have
- Each party’s gross monthly income
- How many overnights the children spend with each parent during the year
- Health insurance premiums for the children’s coverage
- Work-related child care expenses for the children
- Extraordinary expenses
When using Worksheet A (primary custody), it isn’t necessary to input the number of overnights.
In some cases, these numbers can be relatively straightforward. However, after handling hundreds of child support cases during my career, I have noticed a pattern of some inputs falling into a gray area. Here are a few examples.
Gray Area 1: What is a party’s income? When someone works a regular W2 job and receives a pay stub and no bonuses, then it is normally easy to determine what his or her income is. (Note that you still must property calculate income as a monthly number, e.g., if someone is paid every 2 weeks, then we multiply that person’s income by 2.16 in order to arrive at a monthly gross income.) However, it becomes difficult to determine someone’s income when they receive occasional bonuses, tips, or commissions, if they are paid a share of a business’ profit, or if they are self-employed. In each of these common circumstances, it is highly important to gather complete documentation of the employee’s (or independent contractor’s) income in order to accurately determine their income. Otherwise, the calculation can be grossly in error. For the self-employed worker, using gross income of the business would render an income that is much too high since we must deduct business expenses in order to arrive at the individual’s actual income. On the other hand, for a child support recipient, ignoring bonuses, commissions or tips would render a child support amount that is too low.
Gray Area 2: What is the health insurance premium? The Child Support Guidelines state that we must use only the children’s portion of the monthly premium when calculating child support. It further states that in order to determine the children’s portion of a monthly premium, we must do the following. First, obtain a copy of the employer’s health insurance benefits documentation. Second, subtract the “employee only” amount from the “family” or “employee + children” amount. The resulting amount is the children’s portion of the monthly premium amount. In some cases, this documentation is unavailable, in which case the Child Support Guidelines tell us to take the monthly premium amount, divide by the number of persons covered, and multiply by the number of minor children.
Gray Area 3: What is the work-related child care expense? Remember, we are talking about work-related child care expenses. So this does not include babysitter cost for an evening out with friends or, gulp, a date. However, it does include child care expenses such as after-school care until the parent gets home from his or her job. It is a common problem for parents to want to include expenses such as summer camps, which presents yet another gray area that you should discuss with your family law attorney.
Gray Area 4: What is an extraordinary expense? The North Carolina Child Support Guidelines state the following about extraordinary expenses:
Other extraordinary child-related expenses (including (1) expenses related to special or private elementary or secondary schools to meet a child's particular educational needs, and (2) expenses for transporting the child between the parents' homes) may be added to the basic child support obligation and ordered paid by the parents in proportion to their respective incomes if the court determines the expenses are reasonable, necessary, and in the child's best interest.
The most common two instances of extraordinary expenses are tutoring expenses and airplane tickets one parent must purchase to travel from out-of-state to visit the kids. But in most cases, there are no applicable extraordinary expenses. I have handled cases in which there are significant tutoring expenses or plane ticket expenses, but Judges have denied their inclusion. In other cases, I have seen Judges include them.
So, as you can see, child support is simple in principle, but it can be complicated in application.
As always, this article is not legal advice, and it is important that you seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney regarding your unique facts and circumstances before making any major decisions that might impact you or your family.