When parents of minor children decide to divorce, or separate in the event they aren't married, they will undoubtedly have many questions about child support. This article attempts to provide a basic overview of how courts determine child support in Alaska.
Both parents, whether they are married to one another or not, have a legal obligation to provide financial support to their children. In Alaska, courts must follow specific guidelines to determine the amount of child support one parent may be required to pay to the other. These guidelines are set out in Rule 90.3 of the Alaska Court Rules. Parents can estimate the amount of child support an Alaska court may order by completing either Form DR-305 (Child Support Guidelines Affidavit) or the child support sections of Form DR-105 (Petition for Dissolution of Marriage).
The most important factor is income. The determination starts with figuring out each parent's annual or monthly gross income from all sources. This includes unemployment compensation as well as the value of certain employer-provided benefits, such as housing and meals. It doesn't include public-assistance benefits. If your income varies significantly from year to year, you may want to use an average of your income from the last few years.
After determining gross income, a court will want to know your net income. This is determined by taking the gross income and subtracting allowable deductions, which include income taxes, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement contributions, some voluntary retirement contributions, social security contributions, court-ordered payments such as child support for children of other relationships, and the cost of necessary work-related child-care. For purposes of calculating child support, a court will use either a parent's actual annual net income or $126,000, whichever amount is lower. (The $126,000 figure is subject to change, so be sure to use the most current version of Form 305.)
Finally, a court will want to know all about the custody arrangement you currently have in place, because the percentage of each parent's net income that will be included in a support order depends on the amount of time each parent spends with the children. The following rules apply:
A court considers one parent to have primary custody if a child lives with that parent for more than 30% of the time—generally 110 overnight stays per year—and with the other parent for less than 30% of the time. To calculate child support in a primary custody arrangement, multiply the noncustodial parent's annual net income by 20% for one child, 27% for two children, and 33% for three children. If there are more than three children, add an additional 3% for each additional child.
A shared custody arrangement means the children live with each parent at least 30% of the year, according to a specified visitation schedule in the support order. Courts assume that in shared custody arrangements each parent pays for a considerable percentage of child-related expenses while the kids are with that parent. For example, if one parent has the kids for a week, that parent will likely spend money on kid-related food, clothing, and entertainment, which means the total costs of support tend to be significantly higher than the percentages set by the guidelines.
In a shared custody arrangement, a court first calculates a support amount for each parent based on the parent's time share. Next, the court subtracts the lower support amount (we'll refer to this as Parent A's amount) from the higher support amount (Parent B's amount). Finally, the court takes the difference between the two amounts and multiplies that by 1.5. The result is the amount Parent B will pay to Parent A.
If the assumption that each parent is paying for direct expenses is wrong, or if one parent decides not to spend their allotted amount of time with the children as provided in the parenting plan, an adjustment may be appropriate. You can calculate the support amount for shared custody using Form DR-306.
Divided custody means each parent has primary physical custody of at least one child from the relationship, and the parents don't have shared custody of any of their children. To determine support in these situations, the guidelines look separately at each parent who has primary physical custody of one or more children.
For example, Parent A has primary custody of two children, and Parent B has primary custody of one. Technically, the parents owe each other child support, because each of them has primary custody of a child. The guidelines calculate how much child support each parent would owe. It then subtracts one from the other, and if one parent owes more, that parent pays that difference. You can calculate the support amount for divided custody using Form DR-307.
In a hybrid custody situation, at least one of the parents has primary physical custody of at least one child of the relationship, and the parents have shared custody of at least one other child. Determining hybrid custody support is a multi-step process. You can calculate the support amount for this particular custody arrangement using Form DR-308.
Regarding the above custody scenarios, note the following:
If health care coverage for the children is available for a reasonable cost, and the children are not eligible for free health care from Indian Health Service (or any other entity) or other insurance coverage, a court will order at least one of the parents to purchase coverage and will generally order both parents to share the cost equally, unless there is good cause not to.
Note that the law also states that the parents will contribute to reasonable health care expenses not covered by insurance, unless the court orders otherwise for good cause.
A court may deviate from the child support guidelines if it finds that unusual circumstances exist, and that these circumstances make standard application of the guidelines unjust. Some examples would be: an especially large family size; very high or low family income; a child with significant income; or, health or other extraordinary expenses.
If a court orders support in an amount that differs from the guidelines, it must specify the reasons for doing so in writing.
Parents cannot avoid their child support obligations by quitting a job or failing to conduct an adequate job search. If the court finds that a parent is voluntarily and unreasonably unemployed or underemployed, it may impute income to a parent by estimating the parent's potential income based on factors such as work history, qualifications, and existing job opportunities in the area. The child support may then be based on what the parent could be earning, rather than what the parent actually earns.
A court won't impute income for a parent who is physically or mentally incapacitated, or who is caring for a child under two years of age (assuming both parents are legally responsible for the child).
If a parent is making a career change, the court will consider whether or not the children would benefit from the change. The court also may impute potential income for non-income or low income producing assets.
A parent seeking to change or modify a child support order must show an material change in circumstances. The court will generally presume that modification is appropriate if the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current child support guidelines varies by at least 15%.
The court retains its authority, however, to deny a request to change child support if the change would be unfair, even when the 15% variation exists.
Normally child support ends when a child becomes emancipated. In Alaska, the age of emancipation is 18. However, you can petition the court for an order continuing child support when a child is 18, if the child is unmarried, actively pursuing a high school diploma or an equivalent level of technical or vocational training, and living as a dependent with a parent or guardian. (AK Stat § 25.24.170). This order may provide for the support to be paid directly to the child, upon terms and conditions the court considers appropriate.
Check this site for instructions on continuing child support at age 18.
There are resources available to help custodial parents enforce a child support order against a parent who fails or refuses to pay child support.
The Child Support Services Division of the State Department of Revenue is responsible for helping families obtain child support orders, locate absent parents, establish paternity if necessary, and secure compliance with child support court orders. Parents can also access a Guideline Calculator at this site. More information about child support in Alaska is available at the Alaska Court System's Self-Help Center: Family Law.