Few issues in divorce seem to cause more confusion and consternation than paying for or receiving child support. We thought we would take a moment to explain how Missouri approaches child support and the issues involved.
Missouri has long operated under a set of child support guidelines produced by a committee of the state supreme court, with members coming from diverse fields to help approximate how much a child “costs” parents at a given income level. The guidelines seek to bring both fairness and predictability to the process. The guidelines take into account the primary expenses of raising a child, exclusive of health care costs, childcare costs and other extraordinary expenses – so items like housing, food, clothing, utilities, etc. Using a variety of economic data, the guidelines produce a cost per child for a family at a given household income.
To determine what a couple going through divorce would have to pay (or receive) in child support, the court completes what is known as a Form 14. After inserting incomes of the parties, health care costs and childcare expenses, in addition to any extraordinary expenses, the Form 14 yields a presumptive child support amount for the household, and then uses the share of household income to compute each parent’s support obligation. The parent paying support can get credit for paying health care costs, childcare costs and a percentage based on the number of custodial overnights the parent has in a year. After these credits, the Form 14 gives a presumptive amount the obligor parent must pay.
Sometimes a parent may feel the support too much or too little. In these circumstances, if the parent can show that the presumptive amount would produce a hardship to either parent and would not be in the best interests of the child, the court can find the presumptive amount unjust or inappropriate and enter a different amount. Also, parents can agree to a given amount.
Child support does not include every item a child would incur, for example costs for education, extracurricular activities or uncovered medical expenses. In these situations, the court also has to determine what percentage of these expenses each parent must contribute.
In certain circumstances, it may make sense for parents to negotiate child support. For example, if the parent receiving support is adamant that the children attend private school and that expense would be born by the parent paying support, the obligor parent might seek a lower support amount in exchange for covering the costs of private school. Or a parent who must pay both maintenance and child support may seek to have more in maintenance than child support because maintenance is tax deductible whereas child support is not.
What parents should realize prior to finalizing a divorce is that the child support amount in and of itself does not cover everything the family will need moving forward, and that the more the parties actually calculate known and anticipated expenses in advance, the more they can arrive at reasonable methods of covering those expenses beyond the Form 14 amount itself. Creativity and initiative could save both parents money, frustration and returns to court.
If you have questions about child support and divorce, contact us – we can help.