Guideline Child Support
Courts no longer have broad discretion in ordering child support since the statewide uniform guideline was implemented. The guideline embodies the state’s strong public policy in favor of adequate child support. Under this guideline, courts are required to calculate child support according to a mathematical formula based on the parents’ income and custodial time with the children. The amount established by the formula is considered the correct amount of child support to be ordered.
Due to the existence of a uniform formula, the determination of a child support obligation is now a highly regulated area of law, and many family law attorneys specialize in child support. Although courts are generally stripped of broad discretion, they may still exercise discretion but only to the extent provided by statute or law.
The guideline applies to any of the following orders the court can make:
- Permanent Child Support
- Temporary Child Support
- Expedited Child Support
- Modification of an existing order for child support
- Family Support
Family support, in this case, refers to combined child and spousal support.
Principles in Implementing the Guideline
In implementing the Statewide Uniform Guideline, the court is specifically directed to adhere to the following principles:
- A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.
- Parents are naturally responsible for their children’s support.
- The guideline must take into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility towards the children.
- The children’s interests are the state’s top priority
- Children should share in both parents’ standard of living, and the child support may appropriately improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the children’s lives.
- Child support orders in cases in which both parents have high levels of responsibility for the children should reflect the increased costs of raising the children in two homes and should minimize significant disparities in the children’s living standards in the two homes.
- Children’s financial needs should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.
- A parent who has primary physical responsibility for the children is presumed to contribute a significant portion of available resources for the children’s support.
- The intent of this guideline is to encourage fair and efficient settlements of conflicts between parents and to minimize litigation.
- Child support orders should ensure that the children receive fair, timely and sufficient support that reflects the state’s high standard of living and high costs of raising children compared to other states.
- This guideline enjoys a presumption of correctness in all cases. Only under special circumstances should child support orders fall below the amount of support mandated by the guideline formula.
Child support is different from spousal support in the sense that it must reflect a minor’s child’s right to be maintained in a lifestyle and condition consonant with a parent’s position in society after the dissolution of the marriage. For example, when a parent is wealthy, the children’s needs are measured by the parent’s current station in life, not just the basic needs of the child.
A parent may be experiencing extreme financial hardship caused by extraordinary health expenses or uninsured catastrophic loss. In cases like this, the court may allow for a hardship deduction from the parent’s net disposable income. This is one of the few instances when a court may exercise its discretion.
The court may also allow for a hardship deduction when the financial hardship is caused by an obligation to support children from other marriages or relationships who reside with the parent. The court may allow a hardship deduction for these expenses after deducting the hardship deduction for extraordinary health expenses or uninsured catastrophic losses.
In considering whether or not to allow a hardship deduction, the court must be guided by the goals sought to be achieved by the Statewide Uniform Guideline. If the court allows a deduction for hardship expenses, it must state the reasons supporting the deduction in writing or on the record and must document the amount of the deduction and the underlying facts and circumstances. The court must also specify the duration of the deduction whenever possible.