In Louisiana, the state requires parents to support a child’s financial, emotional, and medical needs. This means that both parents remain responsible for expenses involved in raising a child. Generally, however, the non-custodial parent – the parent who spends less than half time with the child (or children) – actually pays support. The custodial parent – the parent who has the most time with the child – remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
The amount of a child support payment depends mostly on the number of children, the income of both parents, and the custody arrangement. In most cases, $100 is the minimum child support payment. Payments may be less for parents with shared or split-custody arrangements or where the paying parent has a disability that limits earning capacity. Likewise, there are circumstances where a court will either increase or decrease the amount of support if it is in the child’s best interest or if a payment would be particularly unfair to the parent. In particular, a court can deviate from the guidelines when hardship caused by Hurricane Katrina or Rita justifies a different amount.
You can estimate your fair share of support by using worksheets based on Louisiana’s Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines are simply a fee schedule, or formula, based on income level and number of children. They provide the basic amount of child support that must be divided proportionally by the parents, based on their respective incomes. In addition, one or both of the parents must cover the child’s medical care and the final child support amount may include extraordinary expenses for childcare or the child’s educational needs.
To get started on estimating your child support payments, you need to know both parents’ adjusted gross incomes and your custody arrangement.
Adjusted gross income is your gross income, minus spousal support and pre-existing child support already paid. Gross income, for child support purposes, means all of a parent’s financial resources. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. It is also money that comes from military allowances, and most gifts, among other things. If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, or unemployment benefits. Spousal support that you receive counts as income, too.
In cases where a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, a court has the authority to impute income – meaning, assign an amount the parent should be making based on earning potential – unless this parent has a good reason for working less or not working at all. Some good reasons are physical or mental incapacity, or where a parent is caring for a child under five years old. Also, a court can’t impute income to a parent who has been temporarily unemployed or forced to take a lower-paying job as a result of Hurricane Katrina or Rita.
Physical custody, or the amount of time a child spends with each parent, changes the way child support payments are calculated if both parents share equal time with a child (or children) or if you have split custodial duties for different children.
There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but the state calculates support differently whether you have sole custody (the child lives with only one parent most of the time), shared custody (the child spends equal, or approximately equal time with each parent), or split custody (where the parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example).
Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services provides worksheets to help calculate child support based on these different custody arrangements.
You will have a fair estimate of your child support payment once you complete these worksheets, but a court must still approve the final amount.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the child support determined using the guidelines is the right amount. Sometimes, however, the final amount or the way that number is divided is unfair to a parent or the child, especially in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina or Rita.
Before a court issues a child support order, either parent can ask a court to adjust the amount of support either up or down based on the following factors:
Once a child support order is in place, you can still ask the court to modify (change) it at any time. A change is justified when there has been a material change in circumstances that results in a 25% increase or decrease in the amount of child support you currently pay or receive. Common material changes in circumstance occur when a parent loses a job, suffers a permanent disability, or has a new child. On the other hand, if you have a child support order that does not include a child’s medical care, then you can also ask the court to change your order to include this amount, without having to show a change in circumstance.