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What am I Going to Pay (or Get Paid) in Child Support?

The one thing that every Family Law attorney knows for certain is that child support is forever either way too much (for the paying party; let’s say, Dad) or not nearly enough (for the party getting paid; let’s say, Mom).

We call this the Family Law Enigma.

After all, it’s just a number, right?  It is simple arithmetic backed by an algorithm.  How can math be controversial?

Let’s try an example.

Say Dad makes $40,000.00 per year before any taxes are taken out of any kind.  Mom makes $30,000.00 per year before any taxes.  They have one child together, and no other children.  For this example, we will say that neither party pays the health insurance premium for the child – to keep it as simple as possible.  Also, the child is school-aged, and so does not require day care.

The way the legislature in your state has considered this, is that if that child were still living with both parents (if the parents had never split up) then the child would enjoy a certain quality of life that comes with a dual income household of $70,000.00 gross (in this example).  And there is no reason (within reason) that the child should suffer because his or her parents broke up.  Therefore, to the extent possible, the parent who has placement / legal custody of the child should receive a certain amount of money every pay period so there is capital around to allow the child sufficient shelter, clothing, and food so that the child’s existence is something like it would have been.  As if.

It is a messy calculus.  Except that it isn’t.

The law in your state will vary, but the basic concept is that neither parent’s expenses are to be considered.  The idea is that the paying parent has to pay child support first and foremost, and therefore cannot claim that he is unable to pay because rent is due.  You pay for your child to keep a roof over their head, and then your own, in that order, because a child is not self-sufficient.

The calculation also already contemplates that a child will spend a certain amount of time with the parent paying child support, and during that time, that parent will probably spend money on that child outside of his child support obligation.

For our example, let’s say that the parent Ordered to pay child support sees his eight-year-old son every other weekend overnight, and in addition, each Wednesday from 5-8 pm.  During this time it is natural to think that paying parent (Dad here) will take the child shopping for sneakers, say, at some point on one of his weekends, and out to eat on his Wednesday.  That is all factored in already, internalized, in the calculation.  This is why this Dad cannot argue that he ought to pay less child support on a given week because he took the kiddo to Olive Garden and bought him new Nikes.  Not how this works.

For more detailed analysis of what your child support obligation / amount should be speak with an attorney in your jurisdiction.  There is a lot going on behind the scenes.

By the way, in RI, a father of one child who makes $40k per year would pay a mother who makes $30k per year child support of about $539 per month.  And if that sounds like a lot think of it this way, that is 16% of his GROSS monthly income.  Remember that support is calculated to simulate the child’s quality of life had the parents stayed together.  Imagine a parent living with a child who would complain that 16% of his / her income goes toward the child!

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