If you are a parent going through a divorce, or if you have never been married to your child’s other parent and have decided to end the relationship, you may need information about child support. In Connecticut, both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to support their children.
Connecticut follows the “Income Shares Model” which means that courts will estimate the amount parents would spend on children when both parents and children live together in one household (as if the family were still intact) and then divide this amount between the parents based on their incomes.
Judges in Connecticut refer to the current version of the Connecticut Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines to calculate child support payments. If either you or your child’s other parent have primary physical custody and the other has a fairly standard visitation schedule (alternating weekends and holidays, some vacation time, and possibly some additional short visits), you can estimate the noncustodial parent’s child support obligation by reviewing the guidelines and completing the included Worksheet (Form CCSG-1). The guidelines are fairly complicated, so if you find yourself having trouble wading through all of the calculations, you should contact an attorney for help.
Guideline child support is based on the combined net income—gross income minus allowable deductions—of both parents. Gross income includes most types of earned or unearned income. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, dividend or interest income, rent, worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance benefits, and pension or retirement benefits. It doesn’t include child support a parent receives for children from other relationships, public assistance, or Supplemental Security Income. The guidelines include a complete definition of gross income.
After you have added up your gross income, you can deduct the following specific expenses to get your net income:
If you have children of other relationships currently living with you, you may also be able to deduct an amount for their support. The guidelines include a complete explanation of how to calculate deductions.
To get the basic child support figure, you’ll have to add both parents’ net weekly incomes together, and match the total amount with the column containing the applicable number of children in the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations. The current version of this schedule is included in the guidelines. For example, if the total net weekly income is $1,000, the basic child support amount for one child would be $229 according to the schedule.
Next, to find each parent’s percentage share of the support amount ($229) you’ll divide each parent’s income by the total combined income. For example, if the noncustodial parent earns $600 a week, and the custodial parent earns $400 a week, the noncustodial parent would be responsible for 60% of the $229 support amount (600 divided by 1,000) and the custodial parent for 40% of the $229 support amount (400 divided by 1,000). Although the Worksheet calculations will give you a support amount for each parent, only the noncustodial parent pays the support amount, because courts presume that the custodial parent's share is already going toward the direct costs of raising children. The basic weekly support obligation would therefore be $137.40 (60% of 229).
If a child is receiving social security dependency benefits on the earnings record of a noncustodial parent, you should subtract the weekly benefit amount from the support obligation.
After determining the basic child support obligation, you can use the Worksheet to calculate adjustments for unreimbursed medical expenses, necessary child care, and payment of support arrearages. These items are pro-rated on the basis of the parent’s “net disposable incomes”—the money they each have available to spend. Determining net disposable income requires first adding or subtracting from each parent’s adjusted net income the current child support payment, any social security dependency benefit, and 80% of alimony either parent is paying the other.
In some cases courts may order an amount different from the guideline amount (called a “deviation”). A court might find that a deviation is fair if, for example, the child has extraordinary expenses related to education, special needs, or medical needs, or if one of the parents has extraordinary visitation expenses or unreimbursed medical, disability, or employment-related expenses. Courts will also consider whether or not a parent or child has substantial assets and resources available in addition to income, as well as how parents will be dividing their assets if they are currently going through a divorce. Needs of a parent’s other dependents, extreme differences between parents’ incomes, or the existence of a shared physical custody situation may provide additional reasons for a deviation. The guidelines include detailed information on calculating adjustments and deviations.
Parents share physical custody if they each spend substantially more time with a child than the standard visitation schedule described above. There is no absolute number of days required—exactly equal time isn’t necessary, only something approaching equal time. A court will sometimes reduce the non-custodial parent’s payment in a shared custody arrangement, but only if the parenting arrangement actually changes the way the parents divide expenses. In other words, if the parents share time almost equally, but the custodial parent still pays for the majority of child-related expenses, the court won’t order a reduction. The reduction also can’t be so much that the custodial parent won’t have enough money left to meet the child’s basic needs.
“Split custody” means that each parent has primary custody of at least one child. In this type of arrangement, parents must calculate each parent’s support obligation on separate Worksheets. After subtracting the lower obligation from the higher obligation, the parent with the higher obligation pays the difference to the other parent.
Sadly, some parents try to avoid their child support obligation by quitting a job or failing to conduct an adequate job search. For example, one parent might quit a good paying, highly-skilled job to take a lower paying position under the mistaken belief that this will relieve them of their child support payments. Courts are not likely to tolerate this behavior. If a court finds either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it may estimate the parent’s potential earning capacity (what the parent could earn in light of factors such as work history, training, education, and available jobs in the area) and calculate child support based on that earning capacity, rather than on the income of a lower paying job.
Once a court has made an initial child support order, a parent who wants to modify (change) the support order must show a substantial and ongoing change in circumstances. Some examples of changes that might justify modification would be one parent’s getting a much higher paying job or the parents making a permanent change in the number of days per week that each of them spends with a child. Courts will generally presume that a modification is appropriate if the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current guidelines varies by more than 15%. This isn’t automatic, however, and even a 15% variation won’t justify a change in the support order in every situation.
In Connecticut the support obligation normally continues until a child who has finished high school turns 18, or until a full-time high school student turns 19; however, a court may also order a parent to contribute to expenses for a child between the ages of 18 and 23 who is attending post-secondary school (either college or a similar type of educational program) full-time.
The Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) of the Connecticut Department of Social Services is responsible for helping parents obtain and enforce child support orders, including locating absent parents and establishing paternity, if necessary. More information about these services is available on the BCSE website.