In Vermont, either parent may request child support. Although a court may order one or both parents to make payments, generally the parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child (called the “noncustodial parent”) will pay child support to the other parent. The parent who lives with the child (called the “custodial parent”) 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 involved, the parents’ incomes, and the parents’ custody arrangement. You can estimate your fair share of support by using Vermont’s child support calculator, but a court can adjust the amount of support up or down if the guidelines provide a number that would be unfair to a parent or the child.
Vermont’s child support 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, you’ll need to know each parent’s gross and net income. “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.
Even if you're unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, military pay, 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 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. See 15 V.S.A. § 653 (2020).
For lists of what to include and everything you can deduct, see Vermont’s child support 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 Vermont’s child support guidelines for calculating support, 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. Child support continues until a child turns 18 or is emancipated. In certain cases where a child has a disability or special needs, child support may continue past the child’s 18th birthday.
Vermont’s online child support calculator plus the worksheets above enable you to estimate the base amount of child support. You can also review the law at 15 V.S.A. § 656 (2020), 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.
With a child support order in place, the parent responsible for support (called the “obligor”) must submit child support payments on time each month. Child support can be paid by direct deposit, cash, check, bank transfer, Zelle, or even Venmo.
Parents that fail to pay court-ordered child support can face legal fines and penalties. If you’re unable to collect child support as required by court order, you can contact Vermont’s Office of Child Support for help.
There’s no tax credit or benefit for the parent who pays child support. Moreover, the parent who receives child support doesn't need to report it as income, since the payments belong to the child. Additionally, child support arrears (past due and owing child support) can be garnished from the paying parent’s tax refund.
The child dependent deduction or child tax credit is generally taken by the parent who primarily lives with thee child—the custodial parent. In some cases, parents may share the deduction with one parent claiming the benefit in odd years and the other parent receiving an even year deduction. Your court order will specify how and when you can claim the child dependent deduction or tax credit.
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 down or up:
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 show a substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances—like the loss of a job, a parent’s severe illness, an international relocation, or a change in the parenting plan.
The threshold for modifying a support order is lower if the order has been in place for three years or more. More information about modifying child support orders is available on Vermont’s Office of Child Support website and our article on Child Support Modification in Vermont.
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.