In New York, both parents must financially support their child (or children). The total amount of support depends, primarily, on the parents’ combined income and the number of children they need to support. Additionally, a parent must cover the child’s health insurance – as long as it is reasonably available – and pay for other medical and childcare costs. Extra expenses, like those for education, may be included too. Under most circumstances, this duty to support continues until the child is 21-years-old.
While both parents share this responsibility, that doesn’t mean the financial obligation is split down the middle. Parents divide support payments between them proportionally, according to their individual income. For example, the parent who makes 40% of the combined income is responsible for 40% of the basic amount of child support. Only the non-custodial parent, however, actually makes payments. This is because the law assumes the custodial parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
You can estimate your fair share of support by using New York’s child support guidelines. The guidelines simply assign a percentage of the parents’ income to child support. The percentages are:
To determine income for this calculation, a good place to start is with the parents’ federal tax returns. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the end of it. For child support purposes, income is everything from workers' compensation, disability, unemployment, and veterans’ benefits to pensions, fellowships or stipends, and annuity payments. Parents can deduct items like alimony and child support (already ordered), public assistance, and taxes already paid, among other things.
Occasionally, a court can include the value of an asset like a vacation home, an employment perk, or even a gift, as part of a parent’s income. A court may also impute income to a deadbeat parent who refuses to work or who works less to avoid paying child support.
If parents have a combined income above $136,000, then a court may treat any income over that amount differently. The court could apply the guidelines’ percentage to the total income or look to a series of factors to decide how much should go to child support. On the other hand, if after subtracting a proportionate share of child support a parent is left with income at or below federal poverty levels, then the court can set an alternative amount of child support.
Parents are free to pay more than the amount given by the guidelines, but not less. In any event, a court must approve the amount and can adjust payments up or down if the guidelines provide a number that would be unfair to the non-custodial parent.
Even though a court must presume that the amount of child support calculated by the guidelines is appropriate, that doesn’t mean a parent can’t ask the judge – before a child support order is in place – to change it. A judge decides whether to reduce or increase the amount of child support payments based on the following factors:
Once a child support order is in place, a court can still modify payments if a parent has experienced a material change in circumstances. This tends to happen with the loss of a job, or perhaps a relocation or new baby.
Even if a parent doesn’t request a modification, every two years New York’s Division of Child Support Enforcement automatically reviews orders for cost of living adjustments. If the cost of living increases by more than 10%, then child support payments will increase at the same rate.
New York's Division of Child Support Enforcement is a helpful resource on establishing, modifying and enforcing child support orders.
See also this agency’s Information on Child Support Services and Application/Referral for Child Support Services.
If you would like to read the law on child support, see New York’s Family Court Act Section 413.