One of the main questions parents face when they're splitting up is child support—who has to pay it and how much the payments will be. Like all states, New York has guidelines for calculating child support. The guidelines are based on both parents' income, but there are special rules to account for parents with particularly high or low incomes. Read on to learn how the guidelines work.
In New York, both parents must support their children financially. The parent who cares for the child most of the time (the custodial parent) usually receives the child support payments. That's because the law presumes that custodial parents already spend their share of the support obligation directly on the children. So the parent who spends less time with the child (the noncustodial parent) typically makes the payments.
Even with shared physical custody, one parent usually has the children for the majority of the time and is considered the primary custodial parent. But that's not always the case. Sometimes, children spend about the same amount of time with each parent. In that situation, New York courts have held that the parent with the higher income will be considered the noncustodial parent for purposes of paying child support. (Rapp v. Horbett, 174 A.D.3d 1315 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019).)
New York's child support guidelines lay out a formula and rules for calculating the amount of support. In most cases, support is based on a percentage of parental income. The percentage depends on the number of children being supported, as follows:
The state periodically publishes a Child Support Standards Chart with a detailed breakdown of approximate support amounts at various income levels. These numbers change regularly. You can also use the official New York child support calculator to get an estimate of the support amount in your case under the guidelines. The calculator will help you fill out the child support worksheet, which you'll need to submit whenever you're requesting child support (more on that below).
When both parent's combined income is more than a certain amount, the judge may either:
In other words, New York law leaves it up to judges to come up with a fair and reasonable support amount when the parents earn more than the cap. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240(1-b)(c)(3), (1-b)(f) (2023).)
For this purpose, the cap on combined parental income is $163,000 as of 2023. That amount changes every two years (one the even-numbered years).
Note that parents are free to agree on child support amounts that exceed the guideline (more on that below).
New York law also takes into account the fact that noncustodial parents need enough money to support themselves. For that reason, the support guidelines incorporate a "self-support reserve." If a parent's income is less than the reserve amount ($19,683 for 2023), the judge will generally set a fixed amount of support that's below the guidelines figures. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240(1-b)(d) (2023).)
To estimate child support payments in New York, there are a few steps you need to follow. We've summarized those steps below, but you can also find instructions on the child support worksheet.
To calculate each parent's "adjusted gross income" (AGI), start by adding up all income, from all sources. For child support purposes, a parent's gross income includes, but isn't limited to:
Note that under New York law, some costs that self-employed people may deduct from their income for federal income tax purposes (such as travel and entertainment expenses) are included in gross income for the purpose of calculating child support.
Next, deduct the following from each parent's gross income:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240(1-b)(b)(5) (2023).)
Because both parents have the obligation to support their children, you need to add together their AGI figures when calculating child support. Each parent's basic child support obligation would be equal to their proportion of the combined AGI.
Let's say, for example, that a custodial parent of one child has an AGI of $30,000 per year, while the noncustodial parent makes $45,000, for a combined AGI of $75,000. Using the numbers for 2023, the basic child support obligation would be $12,750 ($75,000 x .17).
Because the noncustodial parent's share of the combined AGI is 60%, that parent would pay 60% of the total basic child support obligation, or $7,650 a year ($637.50 per month).
In addition to the basic child support obligation, New York judges must also order noncustodial parents to pay a portion of the following expenses:
These expenses are apportioned between the parents according to their share of combined AGI.
When it's appropriate, the judge may also order the noncustodial parent to pay a certain amount toward the child's educational expenses, which could include special education, private school, or post-secondary education. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240(1-b)(c) (2023).)
Unfortunately, some parents purposely decrease their income in an effort to reduce or completely avoid paying child support. Not a smart move. When a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, a judge may impute income for the purpose of child support. That means the judge will come up with an amount the parent should be making, based on criteria such as a parent's:
(Horn v. Horn, 145 A.D.3d 666 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016).)
This isn't to say there can't be legitimate reasons for a parent's income to be less than you'd anticipate. For example, a parent might become permanently disabled. Or perhaps a parent has to stay at home to care for the children because the cost of childcare would be more than the parent would be able to earn, considering that parent's skill set. It's up to judges to determine whether parents have a good reason for not earning as much as they theoretically could.
Also, in addition to the sources of income regularly included in the child support calculation, New York law allows judges to attribute income to a parent from other available resources, such as:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (1-b)(b)(5)(iv) (2023).)
If a judge decides that the amount of the basic child support obligation calculated under the guidelines would be "unjust or inappropriate," the judge may order a different amount. Before doing that, however, the judge must consider all of the relevant circumstances including:
Judges will consider these same factors when they're deciding whether it's fair to award a higher-than-guideline amount of support when parents earn over the cap, discussed above. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240 (1-b)(f) (2023).)
Parents may always reach an agreement on the amount of child support, perhaps as part of an overall divorce settlement agreement. But a judge will need to review the agreement and will only approve it if it follows the guidelines or meets the requirements for deviating from the guidelines.
Usually, a parent simply requests child support as part of the process of filing for divorce in New York. That said, the issue of child support can come up outside of the divorce arena, such as when a child's parents were never married or when a grandparent has custody of a child.
To apply for child support services outside of a divorce case, you'll need to complete an Application for Child Support Services with New York's Child Support Program. If you have questions regarding child support, you can also contact your local child support office.
Be aware that custodial parents may be charged an annual fee for services from the Child Support Program. The fee is $35 (as of 2023) , but it applies only when all of the following conditions are met:
Most child support payments are made through income withholding. In other words, when you owe child support, your employer will take the money out of your paycheck and send it to the New York State Child Support Processing Center.
If income withholding isn't an option in a particular case (for instance, when a parent is self- employed), the state provides the following alternative methods for paying child support:
If the court permits you to pay support directly to the other parent, it's important that you keep copies of the check or money order as proof that you made the required payment.
As for receiving your child support payment, you can opt for direct deposit to your bank account, or get a state-issued Way2Go debit card.
You can find more information on New York State Child Support Services website.
Both parents have the right to request a modification of a child support order in New York. State law allows essentially three reasons for requesting a change in the amount of child support you're paying or receiving:
You can't arbitrarily decide to lower or discontinue your child support payments, no matter how good a reason you think you have. If you believe you're entitled to a child support modification, it's important that you apply to the court as soon as possible. Changes in child support can only be retroactive to the date you file the modification "motion" (written legal request) with the court, not before that.
In New York State, children are entitled to be supported by their parents until the age of 21, unless they're married, self-supporting, in the military, or otherwise legally emancipated. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. § 240(1-b)(b)(2) (2023).)
A child may be considered emancipated if the child is between 17 and 21, leaves the parents' home, and refuses to obey the parents' reasonable commands.
You should know that even after your obligation to pay child support ends, you'll still be held accountable for any past-due support (known as "arrearages").
If a noncustodial parent isn't paying support on time, you can request help from your local child support office (linked above). The agency can legally collect overdue child support and obtain health insurance coverage through a variety of administrative procedures or enforcement actions.
If you want to bring a child support enforcement action directly to court, you can hire a private attorney who will file the correct paperwork and represent you at the court hearing. You may also complete the paperwork on your own and represent yourself in court, if you're comfortable doing that. The New York courts have the necessary forms available online.
As with all states, New York takes enforcement of child support orders very seriously. The state has many methods for enforcing a child support order, from garnishing wages to intercepting tax refunds. In addition, refusing to obey a court order could result in contempt of court charges, which could possibly send a delinquent parent to jail.