In Michigan, both parents have a duty to support their child (or children) until the child reaches 18, or perhaps longer if the child is still in high school or if the parents agree to extend the time. Generally, however, only the noncustodial parent makes payments – usually in the form of income withheld from a paycheck. The custodial parent remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
Typically, the basic amount of child support due depends on the parents’ income(s), their parenting time, and the number of children to support. Additionally, parents must also cover the cost of the child’s medical and childcare expenses. You can estimate your fair share of support by using Michigan’s Child Support Formula and the schedules found in the Michigan Child Support Formula Supplement, but a court, guided by your child’s best interests, has the final say on how much payments should be.
Michigan’s Friend of the Court Bureau develops the state’s child support formula. Although it may have seemed like a clever idea at the time to name the state agency that administrates child support processes, the "Friend of the Court," this title may actually cause some confusion. When you see forms or instructions referring to a Friend of the Court, which may, for example, bring an action for support of a child or for modification of a child support order, keep in mind this is just a state agency. If you would like, you can read more about this Friend here.
To use the formula, you need to know both parents’ net income and the parenting time each of you has with the child. Net income is all gross income minus certain adjustments and deductions for alimony received and income taxes, among other payments and premiums paid. Gross income includes your salary, wages, commissions, overtime pay, and bonuses, too. Additionally, it is any royalties, tips, dividends, military specialty pay, and even gambling winnings if they are regular enough.
Although you can exclude some benefits, like means-tested assistance or a one-time gift or inheritance, for example, chances are you still have income even if you are unemployed. For child support purposes, you must include workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Also, a court or state agency could impute potential income – meaning, assign an amount – to a parent who voluntarily works less or not at all, unless that parent has a good reason for not working.
To help you account for what to include and what you can deduct, and for the equations you need to calculate a basic support obligation, read the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, under section 3.
While the parents’ income sets a baseline for the amount of support for the child, the formula divides support between the parents differently depending on parenting time. The assumption is the more time a parent spends with the child, the higher that parent’s costs will be. Where there are multiple children split between households, however, then costs may be offset to balance out any difference. You can read more about how this works and see the actual equation used in the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, under section 3.03.
Even though a judge must presume that the support calculated by the formula is appropriate for your child, sometimes a standardized result can be unfair. Where the parents can agree to a different amount of support, then they may not have to pay the amount given by the formula if a judge determines that their agreement is in the child’s best interest. Even without an agreement between the parents, you can still ask the judge to adjust the amount of support before a final order is in place. To determine a more just amount of support, the judge will consider the following factors:
Once a child support order is in place, you can still ask a judge (by filing a motion to modify) to change it. If it has been less than 36 months since the current order was issued, a judge may modify it only upon finding a substantial change in a parent’s circumstances. Some examples of this are when a parent becomes sick or injured and can’t work, or if a parent is called to active military duty which impacts income. Also, a judge can change a current order to include health care coverage.
Otherwise, the Friend of the Court will review your child support order every 36 months to ensure payments meet the child’s needs. Under some circumstances, like where custody has changed, the Friend could initiate a review sooner. Still, this state agency does not have the authority to modify a child support order. Only a court can do that. For this reason, the Friend of the Court must file a motion with the court, just as a parent would have to do, to modify the amount of child support.
You can read more about the review process modifying child support orders here and within the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual Supplement, under section 3.01.
In addition to the links above, you can find other helpful tools on Michigan’s Friend of the Court Bureau website.
The state’s Department of Human Services, Office of Child Support also publishes a handbook, Understanding Child Support, and has forms and resources also in Spanish.
If you would like to read the law on child support, see Chapter 552 of the Michigan Compiled Laws.