If you have a child and are on the brink of divorce, separation, or some other parenting action (like paternity), you likely have concerns about establishing child support. Before worrying too much about how much child support will cost, or how much you might get, you should know that Wyoming child support laws require both parents to support the child. What this means in actual dollars depends on your custody arrangement and both parents' income.
Child support helps cover the cost of raising a child. It continues until the child is 18 years old, and sometimes longer if the child is still in high school or has a mental or physical disability. Generally, it doesn't matter if the money is used for school lunches or violin lessons. A court just wants to ensure that the money is spent on the child.
Wyoming's child support guidelines allow parents to estimate their support obligation. The amount of support you have to pay or will receive depends on the number of children you have and you and your ex's combined income. Using this information, you can estimate a support obligation using Wyoming's child support calculator. Keep in mind, the guideline amount is only an estimate. A court must approve the amount and may occasionally decrease or increase a support award if it's in the child's best interests.
You must know the net income of both parents before you can calculate child support. "Net income" is the amount you take home in your paycheck after taxes and other deductions like social security and health insurance costs have been taken out.
If you think you don't have any income because you don't earn a paycheck, think again. For child support purposes, income includes unemployment benefits, worker's compensation payments, military pay, and retirement benefits, among other things. Also, if you are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, then a court could derive a potential income based on what you could be making.
Apart from the financial resources above, there are some items that fall outside of the scope of income. Besides personal income taxes, social security, and health insurance premiums, you can also exclude other court-ordered support (like alimony) to arrive at your net income. Note that, any means-tested resources, like Pell grants, food stamps, and the POWER program are not included when calculating your net income.
Once you know the income for both parents, you can apply it to the child support guidelines and use Wyoming's child support calculator to find the specific amount due. The guidelines are a formula used to determine support payments. Although the following gives an explanation on how to use the guidelines, you will have to look at the guidelines yourself to see how much your support payments will be.
First, count your kids. Let's say you have two with the same parent. Then, take your net income. For example, say your net income is $1,500 a month. Add your net income to the other parent's net income – we'll use $1,000 for this parent's income – so the total amount of net income is $2,500 ($1,500 + $1,000). Once you have these numbers (how many kids and how much income), look to the guidelines.
According to the guidelines, for two kids, you must pay between 20% to 36.8% of your net income, plus an additional percentage of any income above a certain baseline amount. The baseline for our example net income of $2,500) is $2,083. The percentage of child support due on $2,083 is 35%. For every dollar above $2,083 – in our example, $417 – 31.9% of this amount must go to child support.
As calculated, it looks like this:
$2,083 x 35%=$729
$417 x 31.9%=$133
$729 + $133 = $862.
$862 is the total amount of child support due every month. This doesn't mean you must pay $862 per month or that the other parent has to pay you $862 per month.
You will have to provide a pro-rated share of $862 based on your individual income. Recall that your income in this example is $1,500 a month while the other parent has $1,000. Your income ($1,500) makes up 60% of $2,500. So you would be responsible for 60% of $862, which is $517. The other parent is responsible for 40% of $862, which is $345. Whether you are the one making payments or accepting them depends on your specific custody arrangement.
It becomes slightly trickier in cases where each parent keeps the child overnight for more than 40% of the year and contributes substantially to the cost of raising a child, or where each parent has physical custody of at least one of the children. In those situations, the amount of time a child spends with a parent (say, 45% with one parent versus 55% with the other) or the number of children per parent (2 kids stay with one parent while 1 stays with the other) matters and payments will be shifted to give more to the parent with greater responsibility.
In the event the parents' combined income is less than $833, then the non-custodial parent (the one with less than 50% physical custody), must pay 25% of net income, with one exception. Payments must be at least $50 a month. So if this parent makes less than $200 a month, $50 would be due even though it is more than 25% of net income. See Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-304 (2020).
The parent ordered to pay child support must pay the full amount on time each month. Payments can be made by check, cash, direct deposit, bank transfer, money order, Zelle, or even Venmo.
A parent who tries to avoid paying child support can face steep fines or penalties. There are many ways for states to enforce child support orders. If you're struggling to collect child support from your ex, contact Wyoming's Office of Child Support Services for help.
There isn't a tax benefit for the parent who pays child support. The parent who receives child support payments doesn't have to recognize the money as income, either. Instead, the child dependent deduction isn't tied to who pays support, but rather who spends the majority of time with the child.
Typically, the custodial parent (parent who primarily lives with the child) will take the child dependent deduction. In some cases, parents may share the deduction with one parent claiming the benefit during even years and the other parent during odd years. A custody order will spell out how and when you can claim the child dependent deduction or tax credit.
A court will presume that the child support figure provided by the guidelines is the one that should be ordered. Parents can agree to pay more than what the guidelines propose, but they can't agree to pay less. Also, a court could either increase or reduce the amount of child support if the guidelines render an amount that is unjust or inappropriate for one or both parents to pay. See Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-307 (2020).
When asked to reconsider a child support payment before an order is in place, a court will evaluate the fairness of a guidelines-result based on factors including the child's age, cost of day care, transportation costs, and any special health or educational needs.
Courts also consider the parents' responsibilities to other children, the value of services contributed by either parent, and the parents' ability to provide health insurance through employment benefits. Additionally, a court will look at other factors, including the parents' relationship to each other, pregnancy expenses, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, any other necessary expense for the child, and whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.
Once a court makes a child support order, it can be modified at any time if a parent experiences a substantial change in circumstances. A change is substantial occurs when there would be a 20% change in the amount of child support. For example, a substantial change in circumstances may occur when the paying parent loses a job, either parent relocates internationally, or one parent wins the lottery.
More information about issues related to child support is available on our Wyoming Divorce and Family Law site.