Child support is a monthly payment that a parent makes to help cover the costs of raising a child. In Kentucky, both parents have a financial responsibility to support their child (or children), but typically, only the non-custodial parent makes payments. This is because the law assumes the custodial parent – the parent who lives with the child most of the time – spends the required amount of child support directly on the child.
The amount of child support payments depends primarily on the number of children involved and the income of both parents. You can estimate your fair share of support by using the state’s child support guidelines. These guidelines are a set of rules for calculating child support. In addition to the amount determined by the guidelines, parents must also share the child’s health and childcare costs and may need to cover other expenses, like those required for the child’s education.
Payments continue until the child turns 18, or if still in high school, then until 19. Parents divide these payments between themselves proportionally, based on their individual incomes. While parents may agree to pay an amount different from the guidelines, or wish to split it another way, they need a court’s approval to do so. Likewise, a court can either increase or decrease the amount of support if the guidelines provide a number that would be unfair to a parent or the child.
To help you calculate support payments, the state provides worksheets and an on-line child support estimator. To begin, you need to know both parents’ gross incomes. Gross income is all income from all sources. This includes salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from a job, but also any pension or severance pay. It is also money that comes from any royalties, dividends, or a trust, among other things.
Even an unemployed parent likely has income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Gifts, prizes, and spousal maintenance (alimony) received count too. There are a few benefits to exclude, however, like means-tested public assistance, including food stamps.
A court could also assign potential income to a deadbeat parent -- someone who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed -- unless that parent has a good reason for working less or not at all. For example, if a disability prevents a parent from working, then a court will not hold this parent responsible for additional income. Also, a court will not impute income to a parent who cares for a child aged three or younger.
In addition to gross income amounts, you will also need to know if either parent pays spousal support to a previous spouse, any pre-existing child support, or makes payments in support of additional children who may not be covered by a prior support order. These items make up the deductions that result in the parents’ adjusted gross income, which, when added together, will be the basis for a standard amount of child support per child.
You can see these standard amounts in the Child Support Guidelines Table.
Sometimes, the total amount given by the guidelines or the way that number is divided is unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is in place, either parent can ask the court to adjust the amount of support. Then, a judge will review the following factors to decide whether support payments should go up or down:
Once a child support order is in place, either parent may ask for a review of the amount. A state agency, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, can change the amount due if either parent has experienced a material change in circumstances that results in a 15% increase or decrease in the amount of support due per month. This tends to happen when a parent loses a job, but could occur with the birth of a new baby or relocation, among other reasons. A parent may also ask to modify a support order to add health insurance or other medical support.
In addition to the links above, Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services offers many tools to explain the child support process You can also read the law on establishing child support, the guidelines, and modifying a current order in the Kentucky Revised Statutes Sections 403.211, 403.212, and 403.213, respectively.