Both parents are responsible for the care and support of their child. The amount of child support you have to pay or will receive depends on the number of children you have and the combined income of both parents. In West Virginia, the state has guidelines to determine a fair and reasonable amount of child support based on these two factors. Parents can choose to pay more than the amount determined by the guidelines, but only a court may reduce a payment.
Even if the parents never married, both remain responsible for child support until the child is at least 18 years old. Sometimes payments continue even longer if the child is still in school or has a mental or physical disability.
Just because both parents share the cost of raising a child, that doesn’t mean they have to send checks to each other. In almost every case, one parent will make payments and the other will receive them. Usually, the parent receiving payments is the one who the child lives with most of the time. It is assumed that the receiving parent already pays to care for the child.
The paying parent, however, does not pay all the child support. Instead, each parent is responsible for a percentage of the total amount. For example, one parent might cover 40% while the other pays 60%. The parent who has more income pays the higher percentage.
For example, let’s say the child lives with Parent A and this parent makes $400 a month while Parent B makes $600. Combined, their monthly income is $1,000. If they must give 30% of their combined income to child support, then the amount of child support due is $300 ($1,000 x 30% = $300).
Even though Parent A is the one receiving the child support payment, Parent A will not get a monthly payment of $300. Why? Because this parent’s income makes up 40% of the combined income ($400 of the $1,000), so Parent A must cover 40% of $300, or $120. Parent B’s income makes up the other 60% of their combined income. So Parent A will get $180 (60% of $300).
To find out what your percentage of child support will be, you must know the gross income and adjusted gross income of both parents. Gross income is all earned and unearned income. This includes wages or salary, commissions, bonuses, tips, and profits. It can also be interest earned on a particular asset (a savings account for example), business expense accounts, and stock dividends, among other things.
If you have not earned a paycheck for a while, it’s likely you still have gross income because social security benefits, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, spousal support (that is, if you receive it) and even lottery winnings all count as income for child support purposes. A court might include other income sources as well. When deciding whether income will be included as gross income, a court will look at whether this money would have been available to help raise the child if the family had stayed together or been formed in the first place.
Adjusted gross income is your gross income minus any previously ordered child support, spousal support (alimony), or separate maintenance. You can also exclude income from another member of your household (a new spouse, for instance) and welfare benefits like food stamps.
Once you know the adjusted gross income for both parents, you can use one of the two mandatory worksheets to find your specific amount due. Here’s a link to the worksheets, but you need to scroll down to Section 48-13-403.
West Virginia’s child support guidelines are simply a formula. You plug in your number of children and both parents’ adjusted gross income to come up with the basic child support amount. It would cause less math-induced anxiety, perhaps, if the calculations ended there, but the result would not necessarily be fair. To arrive at an amount that accommodates the particulars of each parent’s financial life and the child’s needs, a court will consider other factors. For example, you might deserve a credit for providing health insurance. That’s where the worksheets come in handy.
The worksheets are a tool to come up with your minimum, required amount of child support. Both parents must use the worksheets even if they settle on an amount between themselves. There are two of them: Worksheet A and Worksheet B.
You use Worksheet A if one parent has the child less than 35% of the year (or 127 days). You also use Worksheet A in cases of split custody. Split custody means the parents have split up the children. For example, mom has majority custody of the older child and dad has majority custody of the younger child. In those cases, the court will make two, separate child support orders – one for each parent. However, only the parent who pays the higher amount of child support must make a payment that’s reduced (or offset) by the other parent’s obligation. So, if mom must cover $500 a month to help dad support the younger child, and dad must cover $400 a month to help mom support the older child, in the end only mom pays $100 (the difference between $500 and $400).
You use Worksheet B if you have an extended, shared-parent custody arrangement. This means each parent has the child for more than 35% of the year.
There is a presumption that the amount determined by the guidelines is the right amount. In every case, however, you can try to rebut that presumption and convince a court to either reduce or increase the amount of child support if you can show the payments are unjust or inappropriate given the child’s needs or either parent’s circumstances.
Some common factors a court will consider before adjusting payments up or down include:
1) the child or the paying parent's special needs
2) the child or the parent's educational expenses
3) families with more than six children
4) long-distance visitation costs
5) whether the child lives with someone besides a parent
6) whether the parent pays child support for another child
7) whether the paying parent has consistent income, and
8) whether the total of spousal support, child support, and child care costs leaves the paying parent below the federal poverty level.
You might be wondering if there are exceptions for parents with either lower or much higher income. If the adjusted gross income of both parents is below $550 per month, then child support will likely be $50 a month. If the adjusted gross income of both parents is above $15,000 a month, then a court could increase payments depending on the additional income above $15,000.
Also, if the paying parent has an adjusted gross income below $1,550 a month, then it’s possible that the amount of child support will be less than what the guidelines propose, if the court approves it. To find out what the adjusted amount might be, use Worksheet A and fill in both Part 1 and Part 2.
Once a child support order is in place, either parent can ask to change it at any time. If it has been less than 36 months since the court awarded payments, then an order can’t be changed unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Substantial changes are caused by events like the loss of a job, or even a promotion. It could also be a shift in who has physical custody of the child or in a child’s needs.
If the order has been in place for at least 36 months, then you can ask for a review of the amount. In fact, West Virginia’s Bureau of Child Support Enforcement should contact you every 36 months to remind you that you have that right, even if there has not been a substantial change.
You can read the law on child support, the guidelines, and the worksheets in the West Virginia Code Section 48 Chapter 13. For enforcement of an order, see the West Virginia Code Section 48 Chapter 14. The West Virginia Bureau for Child Support Enforcement can give you more information on modifying your order or getting an order enforced.