In our previous post, we discussed how Form 14 – the mechanism used to calculate a parent’s child support obligation in Missouri – arrives at a basic support obligation for each parent based on income and deductions for childcare, health insurance and fixed extraordinary costs. In this post, we discuss the most significant new change to Form 14, the visitation credit.
Missouri law allows a parent paying support to receive a credit for periods of time the children reside with that parent. The theory behind the credit is obvious – the more time the children spend with the parent paying support, the more that parent’s support expenses go up while the expenses for the parent receiving support go down. At this point, it is useful to introduce the categories of expenditures considered by the Form 14. Variable expenditures are expenses that vary based upon the time a child spends with a parent, such as food – the more time, the more food. The Form 14 assumes variable expenditures represent 38% of the basic child support amount. Duplicated fixed expenditures are expenses that do not vary with the time a child spends with a parent, such as housing. Form 14 assumes duplicated expenditures represent 30% of the basic child support amount. Non-duplicated fixed expenditures do not vary with the time the child spends with the parent but tend to be incurred by the parent with whom the child spends more time, such as clothing. Non-duplicated fixed expenditures represent 32% of the basic child support amount.
Because variable and non-duplicated fixed expenditures represent 70% of the total basic child support amount, the more equal the time a child spends with each parent, the more likely the parent paying support will pay more of the variable and non-duplicated fixed expenditures, and this is where the visitation credit comes into play. By statute, the visitation credit may be as high as 50% and that would usually apply only where the parties have equal periods of custody and the court believes the variable and non-duplicated fixed expenditures deserve that offset.
Prior to this year, each family court judge would determine a credit amount between 10 and 50 percent based on his or her experience and the evidence presented. As one might expect, this led to some variance across family courts. To help standardize the adjustments, Form 14 now contains a chart to determine the visitation credit based on the number of overnights a child has with the parent paying support. Under this new chart, equal periods of custody results in a 34% visitation credit – far below the 50% one might assume would apply for equal time. Why? Two general reasons. First, the committee determined that duplicated fixed expenditures do not vary, leaving 68% of the costs to vary, and if shared equally by the parents would result in 34% for each parent. Second, the committee determined that the disparity in incomes of the parents make it less likely for parents paying support to really have an equal share of the overall expenses and erred on the side on not shorting the parent receiving support of necessary support.
A parent paying support still can take advantage of the full 50% if the court makes a finding that the presumed child support amount is unjust and inappropriate based on the evidence before the court. This will usually happen when custody time is roughly equal and the parent paying support pays the majority of the non-duplicated fixed expenditures.
Form 14: Presumptive Child Support Amount. After computing the parent’s support obligation after childcare, health and fixed extraordinary expenses, Form 14 reduces that amount by any of those additional childcare costs paid by the parent paying support and by the visitation credit to arrive at the presumed child support amount.
Is the court done at this point? Not exactly. The court must make a determination whether the chart support is fair under the circumstances. If the court answers no, it may find the amount unjust or inappropriate and depart upward or downward as the circumstances dictate.
The child support chart calculations rest on a variety of assumptions, some of which may not be true in your particular case. In that situation, you would want your attorney to bring that to the attention of the court so that the support amount ordered accurately reflects your financial situation. As you can see, child support can get complicated and a bit confusing because of all these assumptions, which is why you need the aid of a skilled attorney to help assure your support amount is accurate and appropriate for your circumstances.
If you have questions about Form 14, contact us – we can help.