Spotlight On Family Law: Child Support Calculations

Calculating child support is contingent on two major factors: timeshare and income differential between the parties.  In basic terms, if you earn significantly more than your ex-spouse you will likely make a child support payment even if you have the children the majority of the time.  California public policy is that the children’s love should not be bought by the parent with the greater income.  Therefore, the law requires a child support payment equalizer that brings the parents’ income closer together.  However, California also recognizes that raising children costs money and therefore offsets income differential based on the timeshare or percentage time the child is with each parent.

Lawyers and judges use the Dissomaster program to interweave a variety of offsets – including mandatory retirement contributions, health insurance premiums and spousal or child support paid in previous relationships to calculate the support figure.  Contrary to what you might think, new spouse income rarely factors into the equation.  In theory, new spouse income can actually only help reduce your child support payments – if for example your new spouse is a high earner, she will increase your marginal tax rate, thus reducing hte amount of income you receive from your employment.

Child support is a major issue in many divorces – see my article on No Fault Child Custody – and I often tell clients that there is little way to decrease child support without spending more time with their children.  I am firm believer that where both parents are healthy, children should have regular and ongoing time with both parents and that such time should not feel like “visits” but rather like they are home when they are with either parent.  While increasing time share has the benefit for one parent of reducing their support payment, my philosophy behind this approach has everything to do with the children.  Children who see both parents regularly tend to be better adjusted and healthier themselves – in fact, the new research points to regular time with both mom and dad as being the greatest factor to overcoming the difficulties children face after a divorce.  All that said, the reduction in child support payments for the parent increasing their timeshare usually simply leads to more expenditures on the children by that parent (i.e., instead of payment going to the other parent to buy necessities for the children, the support paying parent simply buys them himself).

Thus, increasing timeshare should be a major goal of parents seeking to spend more time with their children rather than parents simply seeking to reduce support obligations.  The judges are very smart and they see through the latter approach quite easily.  I often recommend to support paying parents who really do desire more time with their children that they pay a little bit more than the guideline support level to keep them from “counting hours” and allow for a more free flow of timeshare with the other parent.

Good, healthy parents want to spend time with their children and their children deserve the opportunity to know them and to spend time with them.  The courts tend to lean toward some standardization – say a 20% timeshare – but this can be overcome through demonstrating a healthy and loving home environment that the children want to come to.  I work very hard with my clients and opposing parties/counsel to get agreements made on timeshare and support that work for both parties and ultimately benefit the children who not only get to spend great time with both parents but have the advantage of parents who, though not married, choose to be good co-parents of their children.