When parents of minor children decide to divorce, or separate in the event they aren’t married, they will undoubtedly have many questions about child support. This article attempts to provide a basic overview of how courts determine child support in Alaska.
Both parents, whether they were married to one another or not, have a legal obligation to provide financial support to their children. In Alaska, courts must follow specific guidelines to determine the amount of child support one parent may be required to pay to the other. These guidelines are set out in Civil Rule 90.3.
Parents can estimate the amount of child support an Alaska court may order by completing either Form DR-305 (Child Support Guidelines Affidavit) or the child support sections of Form DR-105 (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage). The most important factor is income. The determination starts with figuring out each parent’s annual or monthly gross income. This includes unemployment compensation as well as the value of significant employer-provided benefits, such as housing, meals, or a car. It does not include public-assistance benefits. If your income varies significantly from year to year, you may want to use an average of your income from the last few years.
After determining gross income, a court will want to know your net income. This is determined by taking the gross income and subtracting allowable deductions, which include income taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, some voluntary retirement contributions, social security contributions, court-ordered payments such as child support for children of other relationships, and the cost of necessary work-related child-care. For purposes of calculating child support, a court will use either the parent’s actual annual net income or $105,000, whichever amount is lower.
Finally, a court will want to know all about the parenting arrangement you currently have in place because the percentage of each parent’s net income that will be included in a support order depends on the amount of time each parent spends with the children. The following rules apply:
A court considers one parent to have primary custody if the children live with that parent for more than 30% of the time—generally 110 overnight stays per year—and with the other parent for less than 30% of the time. To calculate child support in a primary custody arrangement, multiply the noncustodial parent’s annual net income by 20% for one child, 27% for two children, and 33% for three children. If there are more than three children, add an additional 3% per child. Minimum support is $50 per month, even if the calculation gives a lower amount.
A shared custody arrangement means the children live with each parent at least 30% of the time. Courts assume that in shared custody arrangements each parent pays for a considerable percentage of child-related expenses while the kids are with them. For example, if one parent has the kids for a week, that parent will likely spend money on kid-related food, clothing, and entertainment which means the total costs of support tend to be significantly higher than the percentages set by the guidelines. In a shared custody arrangement, a court first calculates a support amount for each parent based on the parent’s time share. Next, the court subtracts the lower support amount (we'll refer to this as Parent A's amount) from the higher support amount (Parent B's amount). Finally, the court takes the difference between the two amounts and multiplies that by one and a half. The result is the amount Parent B will pay to Parent A. If the assumption that each parent is paying for direct expenses is wrong, or if one parent decides not to spend their allotted amount of time with the children as provided in the parenting plan, an adjustment may be appropriate. You can calculate the support amount for shared custody using Form DR-306.
Divided custody means each parent has primary physical custody of at least one child from the relationship, and the parents don’t share custody of any of their children. To calculate support in these situations, courts offset the amounts of support each parent would pay the other for children in primary custody, and then make adjustments if necessary for fairness. You can calculate the support amount for divided custody using Form DR-307.
In a hybrid custody situation, at least one of the parents has primary physical custody of at least one child of the relationship, and the parents share custody of at least one other child. You can calculate the support amount for hybrid custody using Form DR-308. This is a multi-step calculation, and the court may make adjustments for fairness purposes.
If health care coverage is available for a reasonable cost, and the children are not eligible for free health care from an entity such as Indian Health Service or the military, a court will order one of the parents to purchase coverage and will generally order both parents to share the cost.
Exceptions to Guidelines
Unusual circumstances, such as especially large family size, very high or low family income, or a child with significant income, health or other extraordinary expenses, may justify a variation from the guidelines. If a court orders support in an amount that differs from guideline, it must specify the reasons for doing so in writing.
Parents cannot avoid their child support obligations by quitting a job or failing to conduct an adequate job search. In this type of situation, a court may impute income to a parent by estimating the parent’s potential income based on factors such as past income, work history, education, skills, and existing job opportunities in the area. A court won’t usually impute income to a parent caring for a child less than two years old. If a parent is making a career change, the court will consider whether or not the children would benefit from the change. A court may also consider whether or not assets could be used to produce income.
Changing the Support Order
A parent seeking to change or modify a child support order must show an ongoing material change in circumstances. The court will generally presume that modification is appropriate if the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current child support guidelines varies by at least 15%. The court retains its authority, however, to deny a request to change child support if the change would be unfair, even when the 15% variation exists.
The Child Support Services Division of the State Department of Revenue is responsible for helping families obtain child support orders, locate absent parents, establish paternity if necessary, and secure compliance with child support court orders. Parents can also access a Guideline Calculator at this site. More information about child support in Alaska is available at the Alaska Court System’s Self-Help Center: Family Law.