Child support often confounds litigants because it seems mechanical and not rooted in the specific needs of the family at issue. But looks can be deceiving – the use of a presumed child support amount determined by income shares actually has much more complexity to it than most realize.
In every child support case, a court must complete a Form 14. This is a worksheet that the Supreme Court of Missouri adopted, pursuant to Missouri statute, that utilizes a few key inputs; income of each parent, support obligations to other children or former spouses, health insurance premiums and childcare expenses, to produce one key output; the presumed child support amount owed by the higher-earning noncustodial parent.
A question we often hear is: Is the Form 14 accurate?
To answer this question, we must look at how the chart amounts are derived. They do not come out of thin air; rather, a committee of researchers compile a group of necessities that every family requires – basic items like housing, food, clothing, and other essentials. The chart indexes all of these amounts along various income levels and determines a presumptive sum needed on a monthly basis to care for a family of a given number of children. So, when the chart seemingly spits out a presumed child support amount, it is not random but rather the level of necessities the combined income of the parents reflects.
Once the chart reaches the gross amount of support, it allocates it by income shares to each parent based on their contribution to the total family income. Further, it gives certain deductions to the parent who has the childcare tax credit, who pays the health insurance, and who may pay other extraordinary expenses not in the basic necessities.
Finally, it allocates a visitation credit theoretically up to 50% based on the number of overnights the paying parent has with the children – the credit seeks to equalize expenses across two households and avoid double counting expenses or making the paying parent pay more than the expenses incurred by the households.
At this point, the work of the chart is complete and it produces a final presumed child support amount for the family. But the family and/or the court has the chance to determine if the chart accurately reflects the need of the family. If it finds that the sum would work a hardship on either the family or the paying parent, the court may make a finding the amount is unjust and inappropriate, state the reasons in its judgment, and assign a different amount.
Child support encompasses more than just the single support amount, however. The court must order one parent responsible for maintaining health insurance. Also, the parties (and the court) can agree (or order) that the parties share in other expenses, from uncovered medical expenses to extracurricular activities to educational expenses.
The child support chart is not perfect, and allowing for a finding the chart amount is unjust or inappropriate explicitly recognizes the chart’s limitations. But given that judges lack the information and expertise to arrive at the magic optimal sum for every family, the chart does help the parties and the court arrive at a reasonable starting point.
If you have questions about calculating child support, contact us – we can help.