In Iowa, both parents have a duty to support their child (or children). Although a court could order either parent to pay support, generally the noncustodial parent makes payments. The custodial parent remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child. Where the parents share joint custody, the parent with greater income is the one who makes payments, but only at a rate that makes up the difference between what each parent must provide. This is not a punishment for making more money; it simply protects the child’s standard of living with both parents.
Typically, parents must pay child support until the child is 18, but there are some exceptions. Payments could be cut short when a child becomes emancipated. On the other hand, support may continue past a child’s 18th birthday if this child is still in high school full time, or if the child has a physical or mental disability requiring continued support.
In most circumstances, the amount of child support depends on the number of children to support and the income of both parents. Parents also must cover the cost of the child’s health insurance and medical care. You can estimate your fair share of support by using Iowa’s Child Support Guidelines and Child Support Estimator, but a court could increase or decrease payments based on the child’s needs and the parents’ particular circumstances.
To use the guidelines and estimator tools, you need to know both parents’ incomes and the child-custody arrangement. For income, you need to calculate both gross and net income. Gross income is all regular income from all sources. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any pension or retirement. Additionally, it is any royalties, dividends and trust funds, among other returns on investments. Spousal support that you receive counts too, and where appropriate, a court could also set aside other assets to meet the child’s needs.
If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. A court also has the authority to impute income – meaning, assign an amount – to a parent who voluntarily works less or not at all, unless that parent has a good reason for doing so. For example, if a parent can’t work due to a disability, then this parent will not be held responsible for additional income.
Once you have both parents’ gross income, you make deductions to determine net income for each. Net income is gross income minus state and federal taxes, and Medicare and social security tax deductions. You might qualify for additional deductions depending on whether you pay into a mandatory pension or for union dues, or if you support other children or pay child care expenses, among other things. For a list of deductions, see Iowa’s Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.
Also, you need to know how much time each parent will spend with the child. There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but calculations are different where the parents share equal time (joint custody), or have a split custody arrangement where the parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example. Likewise, a noncustodial parent whose visitation exceeds more than 127 days per year earns certain credits that offset the amount of support.
The state presumes that child support calculated by the guidelines is appropriate for the child, yet sometimes the final amount or the way it is divided would be unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is in place, either parent can request a hearing to present evidence that explains why the amount of support should go up or down. A judge decides whether to deviate from the guidelines and adjust the amount of support based on the following factors:
After a child support order is in place, you still have a few options to change (modify) the amount of support. At any time, you can ask a court to add the child’s medical support – if the current order excludes it – or to adjust support payments when either parent experiences a "substantial change in circumstances." A change is substantial when the amount of support would increase or decrease by 10% of the current rate, based on the guidelines. This commonly occurs when a parent has lost a job, received an inheritance, or the needs of the child have changed, among other reasons.
Under specific circumstances, the Child Support Recovery Unit can review support orders and make adjustments (that must be approved by a court). To find out more about the requirements and different processes for modification, see the Child Support Recovery Unit’s handbook.
In addition to the links above, the Iowa Judicial Branch’s website has helpful tools and information.
The Child Support Recovery Unit’s handbook covers the establishment and enforcement of child support orders, among other concerns like paternity.
You can also read the law on child support guidelines under Chapter 9 of the Iowa Court Rules.