If you ‘re a parent going through a divorce, or if you’ve never been married to your child’s other parent and are ending the relationship, you may need information about child support. In Michigan, both parents, whether married or not, are obligated to support their children.
Michigan follows the “Income Shares Model,” which means that courts estimate the total amount parents would spend on children in an intact two-parent household and then split this amount between the parents in proportion to their incomes.
The Michigan Child Support Formula
Judges ordering child support refer to the current version of the Michigan Child Support Formula. Parents can download copies of the Child Support Formula Manuals and Supplements from the Michigan Friend of the Court Bureau. The 2008 versions are in effect through December 31, 2012, and the 2013 versions take effect beginning January 1, 2013.
The Michigan Child Support Formula is complicated; obtaining an accurate amount requires multiple steps. You can get a rough idea of how much support a court might order by using this quick calculator, but this estimate won’t include any adjustments for shared parenting time or other unusual situations.
For a more exact figure, contact an attorney for help. If you can’t afford a private attorney, you can contact the Office of Child Support (OCS) at Michigan’s Department of Human Services. OCS provides information on how to calculate child support payments, obtain support orders, locate absent parents, establish paternity, and secure compliance with existing orders.
Income Available for Child Support
Before you can calculate Michigan child support, you’ll have to add up your available “net income.” This includes all income, whether earned or unearned, minus specific deductions and adjustments listed in the Child Support Manual. Common examples of income are wages, commissions, self-employment earnings, and investment income. Income also includes any fringe benefits that significantly reduce personal living expenses—such as housing, meals, or a car. If you’re self-employed, you can deduct necessary costs of doing business, but the court will examine these deductions closely and may not allow everything you can include on your tax returns.
After adding up your income, you can deduct mandatory federal taxes, such as FICA. You can also deduct any alimony (“spousal support”) paid in another case. Alimony in the current case remains the income of the paying parent; the recipient does not include it in income. From the amount remaining, you can deduct federal, state, and local income taxes, as well as a few other items specified in the Manual, such as union dues and certain retirement contributions.
Parents who have biological or adopted children from other relationships can also deduct a specified amount for their support, regardless of whether the children are living in the parent’s home. The Manual includes a formula for calculating this deduction. The formula takes into account the number of children, the parent’s income, and the cost of providing the children with health care coverage.
Even if you don’t have any income, you could still be responsible for paying child support. If a court believes that a parent is choosing not to work, or is choosing to be underemployed, it may base support on potential (or “imputed”) income, based on factors like the parent’s education, experience, and available job opportunities. If the court imputes income, it will also recognize deductions for expenses that would allow the parent to work, such as child-care.
A parent with income below or close to the United States Health and Human Services Poverty Guideline ($931 per month as of January 1, 2013) may be entitled to an adjustment in income available for support. Check the Manual for details.
Deviations from the Child Support Formula
A court can order a deviation (change) from the Michigan Child Support Formula if using it would lead to an unfair result. Judges make decisions about deviations on a case-by-case basis after considering all relevant factors. Some circumstances that might justify a deviation include a child’s special needs or extraordinary educational expenses. The Manual lists several other examples. If a court orders a deviation, it must indicate in the record why application of the Formula would be unfair.
Modification or Termination
The obligation to pay child support in Michigan ordinarily ends when a child who is no longer attending high school turns 18, or when a current high school student turns 19 1/2.
A parent that wants to modify (change) an initial child support award will have to show a substantial change in circumstances — for example that one parent has gotten a much better paying job or that parenting time has changed considerably.
A parent can also request a modification if there’s been a change in the child support laws that would significantly affect the support amount. For a court to consider a modification the requested change must be at least 10% of the currently ordered support payment or $50 per month, whichever is greater.