Both Parents Contribute to Child Support
In South Carolina, either parent may request child support, but both must contribute to the child's well-being. A court could order one or both parents – or in cases where both parents are under 18, then the grandparents – to make payments. Generally, however, the non-custodial parent actually pays support. The non-custodial parent is the one who spends less than half time with the child (or children). The custodial parent, who has the most time with the child, remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
You can estimate your fair share of support by using the South Carolina’s Child Support Guidelines. In most circumstances, the amount of a child support payment depends on the number of children and the income of both parents. In addition, parents must cover the cost of the child’s medical care, childcare, and other expenses, like those required for the child’s education. The way the parents split their parenting time (custody) also impacts how payments are divided between them.
Calculating Child Support
South Carolina provides a Child Support Calculator to help you determine your base amount of child support. While this is a useful tool, there is no guarantee that the number given by this calculator will be what a court orders you to pay. This is because a court can adjust the amount of support either up or down if following the guidelines gives a result that would be unjust to a parent or the child.
Before you use the calculator, take a look at the state’s Child Support Obligation Worksheets. These worksheets will help you compute income and they include deductions that can get you to a more accurate result than using the calculator alone.
There are three different worksheets. In a sole custody arrangement, where the child lives with one parent a majority of the time, parents use Worksheet A. For split custody, where parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example – use Worksheet B. For shared parenting, where the child lives equal time with each parent, use Worksheet C.
Income Used for Child Support
The guidelines determine payments based on actual gross income. For child support purposes, gross income is all income from any source. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. It is also money that comes from any rents, dividends, or a trust, among other things. If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or veterans’ benefits. Alimony received counts too, and in some cases, a court could even identify income based on the value of assets like a vacation home or a car.
A court has the authority to impute income to either parent who is voluntarily unemployed or unemployed unless that parent has a good reason for working less or not at all. For example, if a disability keeps a parent from working, then they will not be held responsible for additional income. Likewise, a court takes into consideration whether a parent stays home to care for young or disabled children. Although a court may impute income to the custodial parent, this amount will be offset by the cost of day care.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out of gross income like general assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and food stamps. You can also exclude income from other household members.
Likewise, you can make deductions to gross income based on payments you’ve already made for the child or the other parent’s behalf. These include alimony, other child support paid, and you may even get a break if you are supporting other children in the home, although not step-children unless you have a court order requiring you to support them. There are further adjustments for health insurance premiums paid, extraordinary medical expenses, and work-related child care costs.
Challenging the Amount of Support
There is a rebuttable presumption that the amount determined by the guidelines is the correct amount needed to support a child. Sometimes, the total amount given by the guidelines or the way that number is divided is unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is in place, either parent can ask to adjust the amount of support. This is called deviating from the guidelines. Once a parent makes a request for this, a court will review the following factors to decide whether a higher or lower amount would be more just:
- the child or parent’s educational expenses
- how the property was divided at divorce
- if there are more than six children to support
- unreimbursed extraordinary medical or dental expenses
- mandatory deductions of retirement pensions and union fees
- support obligations for other dependents
- monthly fixed payments imposed by a court or operation of law
- the child’s income
- whether the non-custodial parent’s income is significantly less than the custodial parent’s income (making the guidelines impractical)
- alimony, and
- any agreement by the parties if court finds it is in the best interest of the child.
Modifying the Amount
The courts in South Carolina have streamlined the process for changing (modifying) the amount of child support due. Either parent can request a change, but a parent seeking to reduce payments has to show a substantial change in circumstances to justify the modification. A substantial change tends to include life events like losing a job, developing a medical condition or disability that limits your ability to work, or if the child gets married, joins the military, or turns 18 and completes high school (in other words, becomes emancipated).
To learn more, you can read and download South Carolina’s modification instructions and forms.
In addition to the links above, the South Carolina Department of Social Services has a handful of tools to explain the process of establishing, modifying, or enforcing a child support order.
You could also read the law in the Code of Laws of South Carolina Sections 63-17-310 through 520, and 830.