In Indiana, both parents are responsible for child support. Generally, however, it is the non-custodial parent – the parent who spends less than half time with the child (or children) – who actually pays support. The law assumes that the custodial parent – the parent who has the most time with the child –spends the required amount directly on the child.
Child support payments are based on a set of guidelines designed to meet the child’s physical, mental, and educational needs, while taking the parents’ financial abilities into account. The child support guidelines establish a base level of support for both parents, which they must divide between them in proportion to their respective incomes. In other words, the parent who earns more takes on a larger part of the support obligation.
In addition to a basic amount of support, parents will also need to share the child’s medical and day care costs. They can decide between themselves how to apportion those expenses or a court can do it for them. Likewise, a court can adjust the amount of support either up or down if sticking to the guidelines yields an unjust result to a parent or the child.
The Indiana courts provide a child support calculator and a Child Support obligation worksheet to help you estimate your fair share of support. This worksheet is a required form that you must file with the court to obtain child support. Other required forms include the Parenting Time Credit Worksheet (PTCW), the Health Insurance Premium Worksheet (HIPW) and the Post-Secondary Education Worksheet (PSEW) too, but only if you have an older child with those specific expenses.
To get started, you will need to know the amounts for child care expenses, health insurance premiums, existing child support orders, alimony payments, and both parents' income. Of that list, income tends to take the most work to determine because it includes earnings and other benefits from nearly every source.
For child support purposes, income is your salary, wages, bonuses, commissions and overtime from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. Income is also money that comes from any interest, dividends, a trust, or capital gains. If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Spousal support from other (previous) marriages, gifts, inheritance, and prizes count too.
Just because you include all of your income for child support calculations doesn’t mean your payments will call for every penny you declare. The law recognizes that some income isn’t regular, overtime for example, and that it would be unreasonable to hold someone accountable to an indefinite, sixty-hour work week. Likewise, there can be exceptions for income and expenses that come from self-employment.
Furthermore, you can exclude some forms of income including means-tested public assistance, like TANF, Supplemental Security Income, and Food Stamps, among others.
If you think you can reduce your child support payments by working less or not at all, think again. A court may assign potential income to a parent who voluntarily refuses to work. This remedy is not intended for custodial parents with young or disabled children or in other situations where it would be unfair to force a parent back to work.
For more information on what to include as income, what you can leave out, and some exceptions, see theAdministrative Rules of Indiana on Guidelines.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the amount of support established by the guidelines is correct. This means that once you complete the calculator and worksheets, the outcome is an amount of support that the state presumes to be appropriate for your child. Sometimes, however, the total amount or the way it is divided is unfair to a parent or the child.
Before a child support order is in place, either parent can ask to adjust the amount. Where a parent provides evidence that the payments would be unjust (this is called rebutting the presumption), the court will either increase or decrease them. Here are some examples that justify a change:
Once a court issues the child support order, you still have options to modify (change) it. You can request a modification at any time if you have experienced a substantial and continuing change in circumstances that make it unreasonable for you to make payments at the current rate. Usually, this type of circumstance occurs when a parent loses a job, but it could also happen with the birth of a new baby, change in custody, or an illness, to name a few. You could also get a modification if your payments differ from the guidelines by more than 20% and the order has been in place for 12 months.
Although it’s uncommon, it’s possible that a modification can be retroactive. In other words, a court can order a change in payments going back to when the change occurred rather than simply going forward from when you filed your request. This can happen when the parents agreed and carried out an alternative payment or custody plan that constitutes a permanent change.
Child support payments terminate when the child becomes emancipated or turns 19. Generally, a child is emancipated at marriage, upon joining the military, or by court order. A court, too, could order payments for a longer period based on the child’s needs.
In addition to the links above, Indiana’s Department of Child Services provides resources and forms for establishing, modifying, and enforcing child support, and for paternity actions.