If you're a parent going through a divorce, or if you've never been married to your child’s other parent and are ending the relationship, you may need information about child support. In Delaware, both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to financially support their children.
Delaware follows a very complicated child support model known as the “Melson Modelm” which is a variation of the “Income Shares Model” used in most states. Under the Income Shares Model, courts estimate the amount parents would spend on children if the family were still together and living in one household, and then divide this amount between the parents based on their incomes.
The Melson Model provides for additional adjustments, including allocation of a “self-support allowance” to each parent before determining how much of the parent’s income is available for child support, and a “standard of living adjustment” (SOLA) after calculation of a child’s primary needs, to bring support amounts more closely in line with the economic status of the child’s parents.
Judges in Delaware refer to the current version of the Delaware Child Support Guidelines. Parents attempting to estimate child support can obtain manual worksheets with instructions (Forms 509 and 509-I) from the Delaware State Court. The Delaware courts also provide a child support calculator.
These forms are available through the Delaware Family Court Website. The guidelines and forms are revised periodically, so be sure you have the current versions before relying on any results.
If you have a court case in Delaware where child support is an issue, you will be required to attend mediation and provide the mediator with adequate documentation showing your income. This usually includes your most recent tax return, W-2 Form, and three most recent pay stubs; documentation of any social security payments, unemployment or workers’ compensation payments; a physician’s statement supporting any claim of disability; and receipts for child care payments, private school costs, or any additional payments relating to special needs of children.
If you're self-employed, you should provide all schedules and forms filed with your tax returns, as well as actual receipts showing payment for significant expenses. If you don’t yet have a tax return for the current year, you should bring other documents reflecting current income.
The primary support obligation will be based on both parents’ combined net income. Net income is gross income minus allowable deductions and the self-support allowance. The self-support allowance is an amount that courts have determined to be the minimum net income a parent requires to meet basic needs and remain productive in a workplace. This is currently set at $1,140 per month. (This figure is subject to change, so check Form 509 for any updated amount.)
Parents supporting natural or adopted minor children of other relationships can deduct an additional amount (specified in the tables included in Form 509), regardless of whether or not those children currently live in the parent’s household. This adjustment takes the place of a deduction from net income for payment of child support for children of other relationships, and also acknowledges that a parent who is supporting additional children in the home will have reduced funds available for all children.
Gross income includes most types of earned or unearned income. Common examples are wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, alimony, dividend or interest income, rent, workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance benefits, and pension or retirement benefits.
Allowable deductions include such things as health insurance premiums, disability insurance premiums, mandatory union dues, mandatory retirement payments, and alimony payments. Form 509-I specifies what items you must include in gross income and what items you may deduct to arrive at your individual net income.
Each parent will be responsible for a percentage of the primary support obligation, calculated by dividing the parent’s net available income by the combined net available income. For example, if the parents’ total net monthly income is $5,000, with Parent A having income of $3,000 per month, and Parent B having income of $2,000 per month, Parent A’s share will be 60% and Parent B’s will be 40%. After determining each parent’s share of total available income, you can look up the primary support allowance for the applicable number of children in each parent’s household in the tables included in Forms 509 and 509-I.
Before determining each parent’s actual primary support obligation, you should add the following additional items to the primary support allowance to determine the child’s total primary needs:
After you've determined each parent’s net available income and added together all items included in the child’s primary support needs, you can determine each parent's primary support obligation by multiplying the total amount of the primary support needs by the parent’s percentage share of available net income.
These are all healthcare expenses not reimbursed by insurance, which a parent incurs for the children covered by the child support order. Such expenses include, but are not limited to, medical, dental, orthodontic, vision, and psychological counseling costs incurred on behalf of each child. The court determines each parent’s obligation for these expenses by multiplying the amount of the expenses by the parent’s primary share percentage of support.
A parent can seek contribution to, or reimbursement for, a medical expense for a child at any time after the medical expense is incurred. However, the law presumes that a parent has waived any right of reimbursement unless the parent files a petition for reimbursement with the court by December 31 of the second year following the date the expense was incurred.
The SOLA comes into play after the parent’s own needs and the children’s primary needs have been met. (SOLA) is intended to tailor support amounts to mimic the standard of living each child would have enjoyed in a single family unit including both parents.
You can calculate the adjustment by subtracting each parent's primary support obligation from net available income and multiplying the result by a designated percentage based upon the applicable number of children. Form 509 includes tables for calculating SOLA.
Custody schedules also play an important role is determining child support. If the parent paying support has 80 to 163 overnights per year with the child, that parent is ordinarily permitted to keep a percentage of the primary support and SOLA, thus reducing the support obligation. The percentage will depend on the actual number of overnights, and can be found in Form 509.
A Delaware court may order support in an amount different from guideline support (a “deviation”) if the guideline formula results in an award that’s not in the child's best interests or is unfair to either of the parents.
Because the Delaware formula is so specific, deviations from guidelines aren’t very common. If a court deviates from the guidelines, it will need to explain the specific reason for doing so. Parents may enter into agreements setting child support, but the court can reject any agreement that calls for a deviation from the guidelines if it's not in the child's best interests.
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. A court is not likely to tolerate such behavior, and will normally impute income to the parent.
If parents are in appropriate jobs for their skill set, but are working fewer than 35 hours per week, the court must impute income based on at least 35 hours per week. If income is not documented, or if a parent is unemployed or underemployed either voluntarily or due to their own misconduct, or if a parent fails to appear for a hearing or mediation, then the court will impute the parent’s reasonable earning capacity at not less than 40 hours per week, and at not less than the current minimum wage. However, if parents who, voluntarily or through misconduct, have a decrease in income, the court may impute their prior income, and base support on that figure.
A court will look at a parent’s particular circumstances to determine whether it would be unfair to impute income to that parent.
To assess whether parents are earning at their reasonable capacity, the court can utilize wage surveys published by the Delaware Department of Labor.
If more than two-and-a-half years have passed since the current support amount was last determined or calculated, you can request that the court modify the order. However, you can seek modification earlier than that if you show that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred, through no fault of your own, regarding such items as income, health insurance cost or availability, daycare or private school tuition, or the number of minor children who need to be supported.
A court will modify the support if it believes that this is warranted under the circumstances. However, if the support order is less than two-and-a-half-years old, the child support calculation must show a ten percent increase or decrease from the existing order for the court to change it.
Child support typically ends when the minor child reaches the age of 18 and has graduated from high school. If the child is over 18 and is still enrolled in high school, then support terminates when the child receives a high school diploma or turns 19, whichever event occurs first.
The State of Delaware’s Department of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) 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 DCSE website.