Child Support

Child support is often the most hotly litigated issue in family law.   The Missouri Supreme Court has issued guidelines for what is called the “presumed” child support amount.  These guidelines, often referred to as “Form 14,” provide the basis for a formula that takes into consideration the gross incomes of both parties and, based on gross income, a “basic” amount of money that should be contributed by the parents for the support of the child or children.  Each parent’s expected contribution is calculated by his/her percentage of total income.   Although it seems that a formula should be fairly straight forward, much litigation and negotiation focuses on how to calculate child support.

There are many important aspects to consider when calculating child support under the Form 14 guidelines.  These aspects include, but are not limited to, the following:

(1)            Income:  Should bonus and overtime pay be included as income?  What about income earned from investments or rental property?  What if a parent is either unemployed or “under-employed”?  What about the parent who only works part-time?

(2)            Custody Adjustment:  Under the Form 14 guidelines, a paying parent is entitled to an adjustment of the basic “presumed” amount of support based on the number of overnights he or she has with the children.

(3)            Childcare, Health Insurance, Extraordinary Expenses:  Child care costs, health insurance and other expenses on behalf of the children can be included in the child support calculation.

(4)            Dependency Exemption:  Under the Form 14 guidelines, the custodial parent is entitled to take the minor child or children as dependents for all tax purposes.

There is also the possibility that the Court will find that the presumed (calculated) amount of support is “unjust or inappropriate.”  The use of factors making the presumed amount unjust or inappropriate can be used by either the paying parent in order to lower the presumed amount or by the receiving parent in order to increase it.  However, it is important to remember that the Court must make a specific finding that the amount is unjust or inappropriate before it can deviate from the Form 14 calculation.

Child support can be modified if a party can show that a continuing and substantial change of circumstance has occurred since the earlier order, thereby making the present child support unreasonable.  The party seeking an increase or decrease in the child support has the burden of showing the Court why such an increase or decrease should be granted.  You should consider that until and unless you can show a 20% change in the presumed support amount, the Court usually will not consider any change.  This is not a 20% change in someone’s income, but a change in the calculated support amount.

In most states, child support is be payable until the minor child reaches the age of 18 years or graduates from high school, whichever is later.  Missouri follows this guideline as well, but also provides that child support can continues beyond the age of 18 and graduation from high school if the child enrolls in and attends vocational school or college. Missouri law is very specific as to the requirements the child must meet in terms of school attendance before the child support will be continued beyond age 18.   When children are no longer entitled to child support, they are considered “emancipated.”  Under certain circumstances, a child can be emancipated for purposes of eligibility for child support before the age of 18.

The law on emancipation of minors and eligibility for child support beyond the age of 18 has changed over the last few years and will likely continue to change.

If you have questions about child support, please contact my office to set up a consultation.