In Oklahoma, the amount of child support a parent has to pay is based on income. Statutory guidelines determine the amount, but the parents or a judge can set a different amount, if the circumstances warrant it. Here, we answer some common questions about child support in Oklahoma. (For more general information on child support, see all of our Child Support articles.)
What is child support?
Parents have a legal and moral duty to maintain, protect and educate their children. When parents live apart, the state has an interest in seeing to it that parents, not the public, provide for their children. This obligation continues for as long as the child is a minor. Parents may not waive their obligation to pay child support as a matter of public policy.
Courts have a duty to set child support amounts. Since 1987, Oklahoma has had child support guidelines. The statutory guidelines determine the amount of support that parents at particular income levels are presumed to spend on their children. Child support calculated under the guidelines is presumed by law to be the correct amount of child support.
How do child support guidelines work?
In Oklahoma, the first step in calculating child support is to determine each parent's adjusted gross income and add the numbers together to arrive at combined gross monthly family income. Gross income can be calculated in several ways, including:
- actual monthly income or income equivalent to a forty-hour work week (overtime may or may not be included as the court deems equitable)
- average monthly income while employed during the previous three (3) years
- minimum wage paid for a forty-hour work week, or
- imputed monthly income for a person with comparable education, training and experience.
For the self-employed, gross income is defined as "gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required for self-employment or business operations."
The Oklahoma Child Support Guideline Schedule is used to determine the parents' base child support. The schedule is based on the combined income of both parents and the number of children in the household. Each parent's percentage share of the combined gross monthly family income sets that parent's percentage share of the base child support obligation. The parent who is not the primary custodian of the child generally becomes the "obligor," and pays the primary custodian his or her share of the base support.
The actual medical and dental insurance premiums for the child are allocated between the parents in the same proportion as their adjusted gross income and added to the base child support obligation.
Can you give me an example of how the child support guidelines work?
Let's say Pat makes $2,000 per month. Jordan makes $3000 per month. They have two children. Jordan's employer provides health and dental insurance for the children. This coverage costs Jordan $100 per month. Pat is the primary residential custodian. Jordan has the children for 100 overnight visits per year. Pat pays $500 per month for child care while she is at work.
The parents' combined gross monthly income is $5,000. Pat makes 40% of that total, and Jordan 60%. The child support guideline schedule sets the base monthly obligation for two children at this income level at $943. Jordan, the non-custodian parent, is responsible for 60% of the base child support, or $565.80. Because Jordan provides health and dental insurance, Jordan is entitled to a credit for Pat's 40% share of the cost, in this case, $40. Jordan pays Pat, the primary custodian, Jordan's share of the base child support ($565.80) minus the credit for Pat's share of health insurance costs ($40), for a total monthly obligation of $525.80.
In addition to the monthly obligation above, Jordan is responsible for 60% of Pat's employment related child care, or $300.
Jordan's total obligation to Pat for monthly child support and child care in this scenario is $825.80 per month.
|BASE MONTHLY OBLIGATION||Pat||Jordan||Combined|
|Gross Monthly Income||$2,000||$3,000||$5,000|
|Percentage Share of Income||40%||60%|
|Base Monthly Obligation||$377.20||$565.80||$943|
|DEPENDENT HEALTH INSURANCE|
|Monthly Health Insurance Premium||$0||$100||$100|
|Monthly Heath Insurance Premium Share||$40||$60|
|Premium Share Adjustment||($40)|
|TOTAL MONTHLY CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATION||$0||$525.80|
|Monthly Work and Education Related Child Care||$500||$0||$500|
|ADJUSTED MONTHLY CHILD CARE||$200||$300|
Each case is different. Each variable presents the potential for disagreement. Your results will vary. You can calculate Oklahoma child support online (unofficially) using a calculator provided by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services or at a privately maintained site dedicated to the Families In Transition program.
What is shared parenting and how does it affect child support?
The Oklahoma child support guidelines schedule presumes a "standard" time-sharing or visitation schedule in which the non-custodial parent exercises 70-90 overnight visits each year. "Shared parenting" in Oklahoma means that each parent has physical custody of a child overnight for more than 120 nights each year. If the child support obligor exercises more than 120 overnight visits per year, the law presumes the obligor parent is spending more to care for the child. There is a complicated formula that adjusts child support depending on the additional number of overnight visits the obligor parent exercises. The more overnights, the greater the adjustment, and the less the obligor parent has to pay.
"Split custody" means that each parent has primary custody of one or more of the children. In split custody cases, separate computations are made for each parent and the amounts are offset against each other. The parent with the larger child support obligation pays the difference between the two amounts to the parent with the smaller child support obligation.
What happens if the parents' income exceeds the guidelines?
The child support guideline schedule goes to $15,000 per month total combined income. For parents who make more than that, child support is computed using the maximum from the guideline schedule, plus "an additional amount determined by the court." The trial court considers three factors in setting support: (1) the child's actual needs, (2) the parents' ability to pay, and (3) the child's prior standard of living. Base child support is still divided based on what percentage of the combined income each parent contributes.
Courts have used different methods to calculate support in high income cases. Some review the specific needs of the child and assign child support on that basis. Others order support based on the top figure from the guideline chart and order direct payment of additional expenses such as private school or travel. Still others calculate additional support using income and support percentages from the top of the guideline chart.
It does not matter if the lower income parent receives an indirect benefit from child support. The benefit to the child is what the court considers. But there are limits to the benefits that may be accorded the children of even the wealthiest parents. This is described in one Oklahoma case as the "three pony rule": In other words, even if the parents can afford it, no child needs three ponies.
Can we agree on child support different from the guideline amount?
Yes, as long as it is in the child's best interests. A court may deviate from the child support indicated by the guidelines "if the amount of support so indicated is unjust, inequitable, unreasonable, or inappropriate under the circumstances, or not in the best interests of any child involved." Both parties must be represented by counsel for an agreed-upon deviation to be approved.
When does child support stop?
Any child in Oklahoma is entitled to support by his or her parents until the child reaches 18 years of age. If a child is still in high school, child support is paid until the child graduates or turns 19 years of age, whichever happens first. If you are paying support for more than one child, your payment amount does not drop automatically when one child no longer qualifies for support. You must take affirmative steps to recalculate future support for the remaining child or children and ask the court to enter a revised support order. When the last child no longer qualifies for child support, the support obligation ends if there is no past due support owed. However, an income assignment will continue in effect until the employer receives an order or notice amending or terminating the assignment.
Can child support be modified?
Yes. The court may modify or change a child support order whenever there is "a material change in circumstances." Courts have held that a material change of circumstance can be an increase or decrease in the obligor's income, an increase or decrease in obligee's income, or a change in the needs of the child. Ordinarily, a parent's increased or decreased expenses due to, for example, remarriage, are not by themselves grounds to modify child support. Child support is based on income, not expenses.
Child support may not be modified retroactively. Only future payments can be modified. If you think child support should be modified, you should act right away. Sitting on your rights could cost you.
How do I know whether the other parent's income has changed significantly?
The Court may order that the parents periodically exchange information for an informal review and adjustment process. Parents may also ask for this information by certified mail. On or after April 15th of each year, either parent may ask the other parent in writing to provide their previous tax year W -2 forms, 1099 form, or other wage and tax information. Failure to provide the information may result in an award of attorneys fees if a motion to modify child support is filed.
Who gets the income tax dependency exemptions?
Federal tax laws presume that the custodial parent is entitled to the federal income tax exemptions.
If the non-custodial parent takes the exemption, the custodial parent must sign a release of the dependency exemption to the non-custodial parent, IRS Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. Oklahoma courts have the authority to allocate exemptions between custodial and non-custodial parents. The custodial parents can be ordered to release the dependency exemption.
The exemption for children may also be awarded to each parent in alternating years.
Is child support different in a paternity case?
Child support in a paternity case may be set prospectively. In addition, it may be set retroactively for up to five years before the paternity action is filed. A person legally determined to be the father of a child also may have to pay some or all of the costs of the birth. An action to establish paternity and support can be brought any time before the child reaches the age of 18.
How is child support collected?
Since 1994, all child support in Oklahoma is supposed to be collected by income assignment. An order/notice to withhold income for child support directs the obligor's employer to pay a portion of the obligor's earnings for child support. The withheld earnings are directed to a Centralized Support Registry operated in Oklahoma by the Department of Human Services. The Registry records the support payment and forwards it to the obligee parent. The record of payments maintained by the Centralized Support Registry becomes an official record of child support payments made.
An income assignment treats child support as a deduction from the gross earnings of the obligor parent. It is not a garnishment. It is more like the deductions for federal taxes, state taxes, social security or health insurance. An employer may not discipline, suspend, discharge, or refuse to promote a parent who owes child support because of an income assignment. An employer may be penalized for failure to honor an income assignment.
Parents can agree to pay and receive child support using alternate arrangements instead of an income assignment. Alternate arrangements are subject to court approval. Absent an agreement between the parties, a court will have to find just cause not to enter an immediate income assignment when entering a child support order.
Income assignment is a useful tool for both parents to make payment of child support a simple and transparent process.
How is payment of child support enforced?
Most court-ordered child support is owed until it is paid in full. All current court-ordered child support payments become judgments on the date they are due. All child support payments since late 1991 do not expire until they are paid. The primary tools for private attorneys to collect past due child support (in addition to other means available to collect any judgment) are contempt of court and license revocation.
Contempt of court. The obligee parent may apply to the court for a citation against the obligor parent alleging contempt of court for failure to pay child support. To be found guilty of contempt, there must be:
- an existing order for support, reduced to writing and filed in the court file
- knowledge of the order by the obligor, and
- a willful failure to pay as required by the order.
A finding that an obligor is guilty of contempt of court carries a penalty of up to six months in jail, and a fine of up to $500 per violation. The purpose of the jail sentence and fine is not to punish the non-paying parent, but to coerce compliance with the court orders. Courts will encourage and allow parents owing support to "purge" themselves of contempt. They do this by paying their past due support obligation in a lump sum, or in installments when the court finds it appropriate.
License Revocation. License revocation is a useful tool when the obligor's occupation or hobby requires a state license. Bartenders, electricians, plumbers, real estate agents, truck drivers, and welders are just a few of the hundreds of professions that require a state license to work. A state license is required to hunt, fish, drive a car or boat, carry a concealed weapon, or engage in many other recreational pursuits. There are approximately 300 such licenses issued by the state of Oklahoma. A court may, upon application, order revocation of all licenses held by a parent in arrears for child support. The threat of losing your driver's license alone is usually enough to coerce compliance with a child support order, and to make payment arrangements to satisfy arrears.