Every state has unique laws concerning child support, and one of the main factors in any child support case is how much time the children spend with each parent. The court recognizes how expensive it is to raise children and therefore rules in favor of the children’s best interests. This applies to joint child custody agreements in which the children spend a relatively equal amount of time with each parent. Joint custody agreements then influence the child support determination using several possible formulas:
Income Shares Model
Using this method of child support determination, the court will assess each parent’s income and decide based on their total shared income. For example, if one parent earns $50,000 per year and the other earns $150,000, the couple’s shared income is $200,000. The parent who earns $50,000 essentially provides 25% of the couple’s shared income and is therefore responsible for 25% of the children’s expenses.
Percentage of Income Model
In the District of Columbia and ten other states, the court uses a percentage of income payment model for the parent who pays child support, or obligor. Some states require the obligor to pay a flat monthly rate based on a percentage of his or her income regardless of custody rights or agreed visitation time. Other states factor in how much time the obligor spends with the children.
Joint Physical Custody and Income Shares Model
“Joint physical custody” refers to how much time a parent spends with the children using overnight stays as a frame of reference. There are 365 days in each year, and the court will measure how many overnights one parent gets by his or her level of custody. Each state has unique criteria for determining joint physical custody, usually using the number of overnight stays with each parent as the main determining factor. Using the joint custody and income shares model, the court considers how many overnights each parent has and will make child support determinations based on that time.
Joint Custody and Percentage of Income
Similar to the joint custody and income shares model, this child support payment model uses each parent’s number of overnights in a year to determine an acceptable percentage of income. A parent who has more overnights with the children will likely pay less to the other spouse in monthly support. For example, if one parent only has 100 overnights in a year, he or she may need to pay 20% of his or her income in support. If the parent has 160 overnights in a year, he or she will likely pay a smaller percentage.
Ultimately, the court has the final say in child support determinations. The court’s first priority in child support cases is to ensure the determination is in the best interest of the children. Each state has unique laws governing child custody and support, so divorcing couples should meet with an experienced and reliable divorce attorney to help navigate the legal process and reach mutually acceptable solutions. An attorney can also help to make amendments to an existing custody or support agreement.