In Vermont, either parent may request child support. Although a court could order one or both parents to make payments, generally 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.
In most circumstances, the amount of a child support payment depends on the number of children, the income of both parents, and the custody arrangement. You can estimate your fair share of support by using the state’s child support guidelines, but a court can adjust the amount of support if the guidelines provide a number that would be unfair to a parent or the child.
The guidelines are simply a fee schedule, or formula. 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. In addition to the amount determined by the guidelines, parents must also share childcare costs and other expenses, like those required for the child’s education. Additionally, a court will order one or both parents to cover the child’s medical insurance.
To use the guidelines, the first thing you need to know is the gross and available incomes of both parents. Gross income is all income from all sources. 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 any royalties, dividends, or a trust, among other things. If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Gifts, prizes, and spousal support received count too, and in some cases, a court could even impute income based on the value of assets like a vacation home or a car.
Likewise, a court could impute income to a deadbeat parent -- someone who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed -- unless that parent has a good reason for working less or not at all. For example, if a parent has a disability, then they will not be held responsible for additional income. Also, a court will not impute income to a parent if it is in the child’s best interest that this parent stays home to care for the child.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out of gross income like general assistance, food stamps, and any support you are already paying for other children.
Once you have both parents’ gross income, you make deductions to determine available income for each. Available income is gross income minus spousal support paid, pre-existing child support paid, the cost of the child’s health insurance, FICA taxes, and state and federal income taxes. To help you with your tax deductions, see 15 V.S.A. Section 653 and the worksheets below.
lists of what to include and everything you can deduct, see the state’s
worksheets. If you have sole or split custody, use the Sole or Split Custody Worksheet. If you have shared custody, use the Shared Custody Worksheet.
You also need to know how much time each parent will spend with the child before you can calculate support. There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but the guidelines calculate support differently whether you have sole custody (the child lives with you for over 75% of the time), shared custody (the child lives part 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).
Once you determine both parents’ available incomes and custody, you are ready to use the guidelines, which will give you a total amount of child support due. After you have that number, you can calculate what each parent’s share of that amount will be.
You can use this link to access Vermont’s Child Support Guidelines. You must, however, be able to download a program onto your computer. This program plus the worksheets above enable you to estimate the base amount of child support. You can also see the law 15 V.S.A. Section 656, which explains how the total amount of support must be split between the parents.
Remember, however, that the cost of childcare, medical, or other expenses will increase your share of child support. Also, if a parent’s income is lower than the smallest amount given by the guidelines, or if a parent would be left with less than enough to self-support, then the court can use its discretion to arrive at a fair payment.
Sometimes, the total amount given by the guidelines or the way that number is divided is unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is in place, either parent can ask the court to adjust the amount of support. In that case, a judge will review the following factors to adjust the amount of child support either up or down:
You can find these factors in 15 V.S.A. Section 659.
Once a child support order is in place, you can still ask the court to modify (change) it at any time. If it’s been less than three years since the original order was issued or modified, then you must have a substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances – like the loss of a job. The threshold is lower if an order has been in place for three years or more. You can read more about this on Vermont’s Office of Child Support website under Modifying a Support Order.
In addition to the links above, Vermont’s Office of Child Support has many tools to explain the process of establishing, modifying, or enforcing a child support order.