Remarriage after a divorce is a reason to be happy, right? Of course it is. But if you’re in Oregon, and have a child support order, will your remarriage affect support obligations under that order? This article should shed some light on that issue. If you have specific questions about your own case, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Courts rely on state-established guidelines to calculate child support awards in Oregon. Since a child’s support is the responsibility of both parents, the guidelines use both parents’ income in calculating a final support figure. That includes gross earnings and income from any source. Some of these are:
In determining the child support figure, the court takes other items into consideration as well, such as employment-related child care costs, and health care coverage costs. Once the total support figure is calculated, it’s assigned between the parents in proportion to their incomes.
More information about the child support guidelines can be found on the Oregon Department of Justice - Oregon Child Support Program website.
If a court finds that a parent is unemployed or underemployed, but has the ability to earn, it can assess “potential income" to that parent when calculating child support. This process is also known as imputing income. If the court decides to do this, it will look at certain factors in determining an income figure, including:
The law presumes that guidelines-based support figures are correct. However, this is a rebuttable presumption. “Rebuttable” means that the court can vary from the guidelines if it finds that applying them would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. The law gives judges certain criteria to consider in deciding whether to deviate from the guidelines. Some of these are:
It’s possible to modify a child support order. But in order to do this, the party seeking the change must apply to the court, and must prove a substantial change in economic circumstances. For example, a significant change in a party's reasonable and necessary expenses might be a sufficient reason. However, the court will only consider changes that occurred after the entry of the last support order. Also, a request for a change based on a reduction of the support payer’s income will be denied if the reduction occurred primarily to avoid the child support obligation.
The question now is whether remarriage creates a substantial change in economic circumstances.
The reason the heading says “possible” is because normally remarriage isn’t a sufficient reason to modify a child support order. That’s because a new spouse isn’t ordinarily responsible for supporting your children from a prior relationship. Oregon appears to be a bit quirky on this issue. There’s an Oregon law that implies that a stepparent may have at least some responsibility in this area. However, for some reason the state courts don’t seem to be applying that law.
Under past law, a new child didn’t affect an existing child support order. Your primary duty was to your children from your prior relationship, end of story. But that thinking has fallen out of favor. This is evident in Oregon, which acknowledges the need to take care of new children as well.
For example, the support guidelines provide that in calculating support, a parent is entitled to an income deduction for a child who’s not from the relationship that the support order applies to (assuming the parent is legally responsible for that child).
The criteria for deviating from the support guidelines, above, offer another example. One of the criteria is “the number and needs of other dependents of a parent.” A parent's new child certainly seems to fall into that category.
Remember, the presence of a new child is something the court may consider in deciding whether to change a support order. It doesn’t require a modification in and of itself.
A new spouse’s income isn’t included when child support is calculated under the guidelines. So why should it affect child support at all? Once again, the support guidelines deviation criteria give us some insight. The last one listed above speaks of the financial advantage a new spouse’s income provides to the parent’s household. What does that mean? Well, in all likelihood, your new spouse is paying a portion of the household expenses, such as the mortgage or rent, utilities, or groceries. In doing so, he or she is in effect freeing up some of your individual income, making that income available for child support. So, under the appropriate circumstances, this is something the court can look at in deciding whether to modify an existing child support order.
This article is only meant as an overview of the topic of remarriage and child support in Oregon. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult a qualified family law attorney with any questions you may have.