Child support is money that one parent pays the other to help support a child. In New York, child support includes expenses like the child's health insurance and medical costs, educational expenses, and even childcare, while the custodial parent is at work or school. Usually, the parent who spends less time with the child makes payments to the other parent. The courts use both parents' incomes to determine child support. However, any order for child support takes into account what each parent can provide.
One of the most common questions in divorce or custody cases is, "when does child support end?" In most circumstances, you must pay child support until your child reaches the age of 21. The age of majority is 18 for custody, visitation, and other purposes, but the age limit for paying child support remains 21. Unless there's some kind of agreement otherwise, parents have no duty to support an adult child. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (1-b)(b)(2).)
Your duty of child support is not absolute, however. The court may suspend or terminate your obligation if a child older than 16 becomes emancipated by living apart from both parents without a need for foster care, by becoming financially self-supporting, or by marriage or entry into military service. Even in these circumstances, your duty to pay child support does not stop automatically. You will need to ask the same court that made your child support order to allow you to stop making payments because of your child's emancipation.
Generally, child support is calculated based on both parents' income per year and the number of children for whom the parents are responsible. If the parents' combined income is at or below a certain threshold, the court follows the simple guidelines listed below. If the combined income is more than the threshold, the court could use the same formula for all income or just up to the threshold amount (more below on the threshold amount and how the calculation works when it's exceeded).
To come up with a basic child support obligation, the income of both parents is multiplied by the appropriate child support percentage (based on the number of children). To determine income, the starting point is the gross income that was (or should have been) reported on the parents' most recent federal income tax returns. If the parents filed a joint return, they must each prepare a form that shows their gross individual income.
Certain items are then subtracted from gross income:
As an example, let's say you have the majority of physical custody of your one child, and you make $20,000 (after the allowed deductions), while the other parent makes $30,000. The total of your combined incomes ($50,000) will be multiplied by a percentage per child, or "child support percentage." These percentages are:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (2022).)
In our example, the calculation would be: $50,000 x .17 = $8,500, which will be the basic child support obligation. You would be responsible for 40% of that figure ($3,400) because your income ($20,000) makes up 40% of the combined parental income ($50,000). The other parent would be on the hook to pay 60% ($5,100). As a result of the calculation, the other parent will make payments to you over the course of the year that add up to $5,100. Because you have physical custody most of the time, the court will assume that you're spending your share directly on your child's expenses.
In addition to the basic child support obligation, the court may tack on additional amounts for any of the following expenses:
These expenses are prorated at the same percentage as the basic support obligation (using our example, 40% and 60%). When it's appropriate, the judge may also order the noncustodial parent to pay the child's educational expenses (which could include special education, private school, or postsecondary education).
If the combined parental income is more than a certain amount each year, judges have a choice. They could use the same formula as above for all of the combined income. Or they could use the formula for only the amount of combined income up to the threshold, and then decide how much (if any) of the remainder to award by considering these factors:
For this purpose, the threshold changes on March 1st of every year. In 2022, the threshold is a combined parental income of $167,000. (You can find the amount for future years by searching online for the "New York Child Support Standards Chart" and the current year.) (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (2022).)
Even if you aren't working, you may still have income. The state of New York includes workers' compensation awards, pensions, fellowships, stipends, and annuity payments as income for child support purposes. If you receive disability, unemployment, social security, veterans, or retirement benefits, then a court will use those benefit amounts to calculate your payments. Public assistance, on the other hand, is not income. Any amount of public assistance you receive from the state is deducted from the combined parental income. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (1-b)(b)(5).)
If you're voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court will likely impute your income. Imputed income means the court will generally look to your past employment and wage history to determine what you could or should be earning. If you don't have an income history, the court will most likely impute your income at minimum wage.
When the court calculates your basic child support obligation, it can also consider whether your share is unjust or inappropriate. You will need to explain why the amount is too much for you. Perhaps your income has significantly decreased from past years because of illness or market changes. It is possible, although not guaranteed, that the court will reduce your payments based on your particular hardship.
You can ask the court to reduce your child support payments by filing a petition (application) for modification. However, there must be a material change in your ability to pay (because you lost your job, for example). You must file your petition with the same court that ordered your payments in the first place. Only the judge may change what you owe, even if you have been paying the other parent a reduced amount or if you've missed payments already, and even if the other parent agrees. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (1-b)(b)(5)(I) (2022).)
Yes. You both can waive the basic child support obligations as long as the waiver is in writing, states what the basic child support obligation would have been, and states the reasons why your agreement should be adopted instead. Your agreement must also state that you have been advised of Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b) and Family Court Act § 413(1)(b), and that the basic child support obligation would presumptively result in the correct amount of child support.
The purpose of these rules is to assure that the parents are aware of their rights and obligations under the law and knowingly waive them. Both parents must agree to go around the child support guidelines, and even when there's an agreement, it's not valid until approved by the court.
You can find more information on child support and related issues in our section on New York Divorce and Family Laws.
The New York laws on calculating child support are Domestic Relations Law section 240 (1-b) and the Family Court Act section 413(1)(b). These laws mirror each other almost entirely. To find out if the maximum income has changed or for help with a petition for modification, visit the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, Division of Child Support Enforcement.