When calculating Child Support, a very common misconception arises when couples think that the amount of child support that is paid can be manipulated or changed by changing the type of custody (from "sole custody" to "joint custody"). Another common misconception is that child support will change depending on the amount of days the child spends with each of the parents in a Joint Physical Custodial relationship. In neither case is Child Support changed. There is only one factor that will change the amount of child support paid and that is income of the parents.
Lets define some terms to make this easier to understand.
1. Fathers and Mothers Monthly Gross Income: This is monthly gross income the father and Mother makes. This can be calculated by past performance using documents such as tax return or pay stubs. In the event that no documentation is available then the amount can be calculated on what the reasonable ability of the parent has to earn income. The following example shows a father's income of 3500.00 and a mother's income of 2500.00 for a total income of 6000.00.
2. Total Combined Child Support: After combining both parents income a calculation is completed using tables set by the state to determine the "Total Child Support" amount. This is the amount that the Law says you must use as support for your children. This amount is the same whether you agree to a sole custodial arrangement or a joint physical custodial arrangement. In this example the calculation came to 1400.00
3. Mothers and Fathers Separate Portion of Child Support: Of the Total Child Support amount, each parent is responsible for contributing their portion. The amount each parent pays is directly proportional to the amount of income that parent makes. In this example the father makes 59% of the total combined income and is required to pay 59% of the Total Child Support or 815.00. The mother makes 41% of the total combined income and is required to pay 41% of the Total Child Support or 582.00.
4. Direct vs. Indirect payment of Child Support: This is where most couples misunderstand how child support works. There are two ways your children will receive support for their needs from Mom and Dad. The first way is what we call Indirect Support. This is when a parent incurs an expense for basic needs of the child. This would include providing shelter in the form of a house payment or rent, gas for transportation, the purchase of food and clothing, haircuts and all other needs the child might have. The second way a child will receive support is what we call Direct Support. This is when a parent makes a direct cash payment to the other parent to help pay for all of the expenses for the child. This is an example of indirect child support expenses that might be incurred totaling $1400.00
Most of the time both parents will pay at least a portion of Indirect Support. How much an individual parent will pay in Indirect Support, will depend on the Custodial Arrangement or Parenting Plan. Only one parent will be required to pay Direct Support, once again depending on the custodial arrangement.
The more time a child spends with one parent the more Indirect Expenses will be incurred. This means more food, higher utility bills, etc. This explains why in a Sole Custody arrangement with the child spending more time with the physical custodial parent, the amount paid in Direct Support from the non-custodial parent would be more than in a Joint Physical Custody arrangement because both parents in Sharing Joint Physical Custody are also sharing more of the Indirect Expenses. Remember, the Total Child Support remains the same no matter what the custodial arrangement is or how many days the child's spends with either parent.
To further illustrate we will compare the above family that has a sole custody arrangement and the same family with a joint physical custody arrangement.
Sole Custody Example:
Lets use the previous example. This mother and father have a combined income of 6000.00 with the father making 3500.00 and the mother making 2500.00. There are 3 kids and both parents have agreed to a sole custody arrangement with the mother. Both parents will be required to pay child support. The mother will be required to pay 582.00 in child support and the father will pay 812.00 (remember this was calculated using their incomes).
Because the children will be spending most of the time with mom, naturally she will be incurring most of the day-to-day indirect expenses. Moms grocery bill will be higher, her utilities will be higher, her auto expenses will be higher even her housing expenses will be higher. It is easy to see how her 582.00 portion of child support will be eaten up quite quickly. This is when the direct support from Dad will be needed to help. Once again this is paid directly from Dad to Mom and Mom then applies that money in the areas it is needed.
This same scenario can be used if we reverse the sole custody arrangement but instead Dad is the custodial parent. Dad would now use his portion of the child support of 812.00 for the indirect expenses, and mom would pay 582.00 in direct support directly to dad.
Joint Physical Custody
Now lets assume that both parents agree that a joint custody arrangement will be the best for the children and that the children will spend 182 days with mom in a year and 183 days with dad. Now in this case as opposed to sole custody, dad is going to have the kids half of the year which means that his indirect expenses for the kids will go up and moms will go down compared to if she had sole custody.
In this case using the joint income of 6000.00 (notice we still have a combined child support obligation of 1400.00-it has not changed from sole custody to joint custody) with mom earning 2500.00 per month and dad earning 3500.00 the amount of direct support will change. Who will pay the direct support (mom or dad) once again depends on the amount of days the kids spend with each parent and the amount of income. In this particular case, dad would be paying about 100.00 to mom.
The bottom line is the same amount of total child support is paid from each parent no matter what type custody arrangement is chosen or how many days the children spend with either parent.