When parents separate, courts face the daunting task of determining how much each parent should contribute towards their children's expenses. Judges consider many factors, from the parents' incomes to custody arrangements, to insurance costs. In some states, courts even consider whether a divorced parent has remarried when deciding child support.
This article explains how remarriage affects child support under Delaware law. If you have additional questions about remarriage and child support in Delaware after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.
Delaware courts use the Delaware Child Support Guidelines to determine child support. The guidelines require judges to use the "Melson Model," which sets aside a "self-support allowance" for parents to live on, and uses the rest of parents' income to calculate child support.
Courts combine the parents' net income (gross income minus the self-support allowance and other deductions), and then use that sum to calculate a "primary support obligation." The primary support obligation is an estimated amount of money parents should be spending on their child each month. The parents are then responsible for a percentage of the primary support obligation in proportion to their relative incomes. For example, if a father earns $2,000 per month, and a mother earns $3,000 per month, together they earn $5,000. In this situation, since the father earns 40% of their combined incomes ($2,000 out of $5,000), he'd owe 40% of the child support obligation; the mother would owe 60%. The non-custodial parent (parent without primary custody) pays his or her share of child support to the custodial parent.
Judges often adjust the child support calculation further, by taking into account the following factors:
You can estimate your child support using the use the Delaware Child Support Calculator.
To read more about Delaware child support laws, see Child Support in Delaware.
Either parent can ask the court for a modification of child support whenever there has been a substantial and continuing change in financial circumstances. For example, one parent receiving a large raise or losing a job would likely qualify as a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. A parent receiving a one-time inheritance, on the other hand, isn't "continuing," and wouldn't be a reason to modify child support.
Judges generally won't consider a modification request if it's been less than two and a half years since the last order, unless a new child support calculation would yield at least a 10% difference from the previous order.
To ask the court for a modification of child support, file a motion to modify child support in your county court clerk's office. You'll need to serve a copy of the motion on your child's other parent. Gather any documentation about the change in financial circumstances that you believe requires a child support modification. If you prove your case, the judge will issue a new child support order effective immediately.
In most cases, a parent's remarriage won't provide the grounds necessary to modify child support. Biological parents are primarily responsible for their children's financial support.
When a non-custodial parent remarries, and doesn't have sufficient income to pay child support, a court can include the new spouse's income in the child support calculation. Instead of using just the non-custodial parent's income, the judge calculates child support based on half of the total household income. For example, if a remarried father is obligated to pay child support but earns only $1,000 per month, while his new wife earns $4,000 per month, the court can base child support on an income of $2,500 (half of $5,000 in household income).
When a custodial parent remarries, his or her remarriage is almost never a factor in the child support decision. The non-custodial parent must continue to pay the same amount of child support.
In rare circumstances, a stepparent can be required to financially support a spouse's child. When a child lives with a parent and a stepparent, and neither biological parent can afford to pay for the child's basic expenses, a judge may require a stepparent to provide for the child's necessities.
When parents separate, each of them have the right to remarry and start new families. Still, this right doesn't relieve them of the responsibility to support their existing children. The decision to take on a new spouse and/or children, and the financial costs of that decision, is a voluntary choice. Courts don't allow parents to lower existing child support awards simply because they voluntarily took on more expenses.
If a parent can't afford to pay the full court-ordered child support for two or more children, the parent must divide the support evenly between the children. Also, Delaware judges always require parents to support their children before supporting their spouses.
If you have additional questions about remarriage and child support, contact a Delaware family law attorney for help.