Thursday, June 5, 2014

How does child support get calculated? A Michigan family law primer

This article is intended to give a newcomer to Michigan courts some background information into child support. It is not intended as legal advice that is specific to a given situation. For more information, see the article "What is the Friend of the Court?"

Q: Who has a right to child support?
A: All children under age 18 (until they graduate from high school or are emancipated) have a right to child support from both parents. Both natural or adoptive parents have an obligation to give support, unless a court modifies or terminates the obligation, or the child becomes emancipated.

Generally, there is no obligation to support an unrelated child (however, the court may recognize an equitable parent.)

Q: When will a court order support? 
A: A court has the power, or "jurisdiction," to order support when it is deciding a divorce, child custody action, paternity, or other family law case where minor children are involved.

Q: How is child support calculated? 
A: The amount of support is calculated using the Michigan Child Support Formula (MCSF). The MCSF calculates a base support amount (that factors in things like ages of the children, income of the parties, child care expenses, medical expenses, and so on) that is adjusted for parenting time offsets.

 The court will consider the amount suggested by the MCSF and order support either based on the formula, or deviating from the formula when appropriate.

The child support formula manual can be found here. Also here. 
Link here to a child support calculator online. I can't testify as to how accurate it is.

Q: My spouse refuses to give me parenting time with the kids. Why should I keep paying support? 
A: Because if you stop paying support, you will eventually accrue arrears, and face a show cause hearing for non-payment.
Yes, each parent should follow what ever parenting time schedule they agreed to. But this doesn't mean a support obligation goes away when the schedule changes. After all, kids have to eat, see the dentist, etc., regardless of who is taking care of them.

Depending on where you are in your case, you could talk to FOC to change your support amount, or do a motion to modify parenting time (after hiring an attorney) to get some action on seeing your kids. But don't stop paying support until the ordered support amount changes.

Q: Is it possible for a court to not issue a support order where the case involves minor children?
A: No. Because a court has a case with children, it will issue a support order, period, because the Michigan statute says it must. Also, courts have to consider the best interests of the child, which include how the child is living which is related to the amount of support that is ordered.

Q: Can a court deviate from the MCSF's suggested support amount?
A: Yes. A court can deviate from the suggested support amount when application of the MCSF would be unjust or inappropriate. When it does deviate, it has to state in writing what the suggested support amount is, and the reasons why it deviated.

Reasons to deviate can include, but are not limited to:
A child has special needs;
one or both parents are minors;
one or both parents have varying amounts of irregular or bonus income;
and so on.

Q: When will my child support obligation end? Can it ever change?
A: A child support obligation will most often end when the child is no longer 18, or has graduated from high school.

A parent who seeks a change to what they are paying can request to FOC or the court to modify their amount, but only if that parent can show a considerable change in circumstances (such as a much better paying job, or a large change in parenting time amount). The requested change needs to be greater than a 10 percent change per month.

Q: I have questions about child support that aren't answered here. What should I do?
A: Go to Office of Child Support for more information, or send me a question on this blog.

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