Different Modifications Standard for “Off Chart” Child Support

off chart child support attorney st louisWhen parents go to court to establish a child support order, the parents generally have two ways to proceed in determining the support amount.  First, the parents can complete a Form 14 – a child support worksheet developed and approved by the Missouri Supreme Court – and determine the presumed child support award.  We often call this “chart” support.  Second, the parents can reach an agreement that the chart support is not appropriate and agree to a separate amount that may be higher or lower than the chart support.  We often call this “off chart” support.

If the Form 14 takes into consideration all the appropriate factors – parties’ incomes, health insurance, childcare costs, extraordinary expenses, visitation credits – why would parties agree to a different amount?  The simplest explanation is that the chart is not perfect and parties may have a better understanding of their children’s expenses and the ability of each party to contribute to those expenses.

While each form of support has its advantages and disadvantages, parents should be aware that “chart” and “off chart” support have different standards for modification moving forward as circumstances may change.

For chart support, any collective change in incomes or expenses – anything on the Form 14 worksheet – that results in a 20% increase or decrease in the amount of support is presumed by statute a basis for modification.  So, if a parent requests an administrative review of chart support, if the 20% threshold is met, the Family Support Division will likely put in place a new order of support.

The same standard, however, does not apply for “off chart” support.  As the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals explained in its decision this week in Abernathy v. Abernathy, when parties reach an “off chart” agreement, a party seeking modification cannot rely on the 20% threshold but must show that he or she can no longer afford the “off chart” amount, or that the “off chart” amount no longer meets all of the reasonable needs of the children.  In Abernathy, the father had secured a favorable agency determination that reduction in childcare costs met the 20% threshold and significantly reduced the “off chart” support.  Mother sought review of the agency decision by the trial court, and the trial court rejected the agency determination and the appellate court agreed, finding that the agency applied the wrong standard – it should have looked to whether the evidence indicated father could no longer afford to pay the “off chart” amount.

If you have questions about the difference between “chart” and “off chart” child support, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys – we can help.