Both Parents are Responsible for Child Support
In Virginia, both parents, whether married to one another or not, are obligated to support their children. Child support payments are based on the combined incomes of both parents. This gives the child (or children) the benefit of what the parents could have provided in a single household. The state holds each parent responsible for covering a certain percentage of the whole child support amount, which must include health and dental care for the child. Childcare costs, too, could be part of the equation. If you are wondering what your fair share will be, you can estimate it by using a set of guidelines (explained below).
Just because both parents contribute to the financial support of the child, that doesn’t mean the parents have to swap checks every month. Only the custodial parent, meaning the one who the child lives with most of the time, may request child support. The law assumes that the custodial parent already covers many of the costs involved in caring for a child. For this reason, the noncustodial parent makes the support payments.
It is not always necessary for a court to make a child support order. In Virginia, the department of social services could issue a child support order based on the same guidelines the courts use. Also, you should not need to file an application for child support if you currently receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In that case, Virginia’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) usually applies for you. Still, you might want to check with your local department of social services to make sure this has happened. Go to the local departments of social services to find your closest office.
Income is more than what a parent may earn from a paycheck. It includes salaries, wages, and commissions, but also bonuses, dividends, severance pay, and pensions. It's likely that even an unemployed parent has some income. For child support purposes, income also includes benefits for veterans or payments that come from social security, workers’ compensation, disability, and unemployment insurance. Additionally, income is what a parent receives for spousal support and rental income, among other things. Even prizes like lottery winnings or awards count toward what a parent could use to provide child support.
Although it might look like income includes every penny a parent might get, there are some exceptions. Public assistance and federal supplemental security income do not count for child support. Also, you can exclude any child support already received or earmarked to support another child. For example, if you have a child with a different parent, then that money – whether you receive it or pay it – is excluded. If you pay spousal support, then you can deduct that money as well. If you remarry, then you can leave out your new spouse’s income too.
Calculating Child Support Payments – the Guidelines
The guidelines are a formula. To use them, you need to know the number of children to support and the incomes of both parents. If you have children with more than one parent, then you need to estimate child support from each parent separately. For example, let’s say you have three children – one with Parent A and two with Parent B. If you're seeking child support from Parent A, then you count only one child. If you are seeking child support from Parent B, then you count only two children.
Take the number of children and the combined income amount, and then look here at the guidelines. The guidelines look like a schedule, listing the number of children at the top and amount of income per month down the side at 50-dollar increments. So, they go from $600 to $650 to $700 and so on all the way up to $10,000. If you have one child, for example, and your combined monthly income is $1,000, then the total amount of child support will be $196 per month.
Chances are, however, that your combined income won’t be exactly $1,000, or $1,050, or $10,000 for that matter. It will probably fall somewhere between two numbers. This is where you need to estimate. So, if you have one child and your combined income is actually $1,031 a month, use what the total would be for income that’s $1,000, (that’s $196, like the example above) and what it would be for income that’s $1,050, which is $203. Based on these two numbers, you can reasonably guess that child support will be about $200 a month.
A court or state agency isn’t going to estimate like this, however. Instead, it will extrapolate an exact amount of child support based on a certain percentage of combined income. The percentage used is too complicated to explain here, but generally, it’s between 10 and 25% of income. Of course, as explained below, the court or agency can’t go outside the guideline numbers without a good reason for it.
In the event your combined income is less than $600 a month, then child support will be $65 a month. That’s the minimum. If combined income is more than $10,000 a month, then there’s more calculating to do. Depending on the amount over $10,000, an additional percentage will be taken for child support – anywhere between one and nearly 10%.
Paying a Fair Share
As soon as you have an estimate of what your child support will be, that does not mean that one parent must pay the whole amount. Remember that each parent pays a fair share. The way the amount is split depends on your custody arrangement. For a sole custody arrangement, meaning the child lives with one parent all the time, child support is shared based on proportion of what each parent contributes to combined income. For instance, keeping with our example of $1,000 in combined income above, let’s say you have $400 in income – or 40% – and the other parent has $600 – or 60% - you will be responsible for 40% of $196, which is $78.4. The other parent makes up the difference.
Split custody arrangements divide multiple children between the parents. So, dad has custody of the older child and mom has custody of the younger one, for example. In those cases you do the same calculation as for sole custody, arriving at each parent’s proportionate share. There, however, you take the difference in the amounts. So for two children, if the total amount of child support is $304 (that’s two children at combined income of $1,000), and the parents are responsible for $122 and $182 (that’s 40% and 60%, respectively), payments will be $60 ($182-$122=$60) made by the parent with the greater income.
Shared custody arrangements are where a parent has custody or visitation of a child for more than 90 days of the year. Here, the amount of support is based on the ratio in which the parents share the custody and visitation of any child. So if you have the child 274 days (or 75% of the time), you could be responsible for 75% of the child support. There’s a catch, however. If you have a majority of time with the child but less income than the other parent, then you can request to use the sole custody calculation instead.
Challenging the Guidelines
There is a rebuttable presumption that the amount of support provided by the guidelines, regardless of the custody arrangement, is the correct amount. Yet either parent can challenge that amount, if it would be unfair to a parent or the child. Only a court can approve child support different from the guidelines. To order a different amount, either increased or decreased, a court will consider the following factors:
- support for other family members
- custody arrangements of the children, including the cost of visitation
- imputed income to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed
- debts incurred for the child’s benefit
- life insurance, education expenses, or other court ordered payments
- extraordinary capital gains such as from the sale of the marital home
- any special needs of a child
- independent financial resources of the child
- child’s standard of living during the marriage
- parents’ earning capacity, debts, resources, and special needs
- earning potential of marital property
- tax consequences
- any written agreement about child support, and
- any other factors concerning fairness.
After the Order - Review and Adjustment
Once a child support order is in place, you can ask a court to change it under certain circumstances. The most common reasons are when either parent has a 25% change in gross income (usually this happens with the loss of a job) or if a child needs to be added or taken off of the order. Some other reasons are if day care expenses change by 25%, if there are outstanding medical or dental expenses, or if there has been a change in health insurance costs. Also, if you have a shared-custody arrangement and one parent consistently fails to visit or take custody, then that is a good reason to ask for a change in the child support order.
Even if you do not request a review of your order, the DCSE automatically reviews child support orders every 36 months.