One of the most immediate concerns of every family going through separation and divorce is how to make ends meet.
Not only are there suddenly double the household expenses (mortgage, rent, and utilities), there are increased temporary costs (like legal fees), and increased long-term expenses that may also be affiliated with the divorce (such as counseling). It is no surprise then that one of the first questions I get in every case is based on making ends meet: how much support can I expect to pay or receive each month? There are two types of support available in the dissolution of a relationship in Virginia: spousal support and child support. This post will focus on my quick and dirty overview of guidelines child support, follow-up posts on child support deviations (when guidelines child support is too high or too low) and spousal support will follow.
In Virginia, parents of minor children can receive child support whether or not they were married.
If the parents were not married, child support is sought in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (“JDR”). If the parties were married and are seeking child support as part of a divorce proceeding, the matter is heard with the divorce case in Circuit Court (“Circuit”). Regardless of which court is appropriate (JDR or Circuit), the Court must first compute the Virginia State “guidelines” child support figure, and that amount is presumed to be the correct child support figure under statutory law.
In addition to having a set child support amount provided for by law, the law also prescribes the duration of child support.
Absent disability or emancipation (which can lengthen or shorten the duration of support), child support is paid as to each child until June the year he or she graduates high school, or his or her 19th birthday, whichever first occurs (OKOK, this blog post is just an overview – I see you parents of smarty pants kids who will graduate high school before the age of 18 – yes, in that case, child support continues until your child turns 18, if he or she is still living with you; there are also other special circumstances that may cause child support to terminate early or extend beyond a child’s high school graduation, such as a child’s early emancipation or disability – talk to a lawyer about your specific case).
The guidelines formula is provided in Virginia Code section 108.2 (1950, as amended) and takes into consideration a number of items including how many children there are, what each parent’s income is, any work-related child care expenses (think daycare), the medical (health, dental, and vision) insurance costs to cover the children, and the number of days each party has the children in his or her custody (a full 24 hours in a “day,” an overnight that is less than 24 hours counts as half a day). There are three different guideline formulas for the following scenarios: (1) when one of the parties has less than 90 custodial days per year (providing the other parent with “sole” physical custody); (2) if there are two or more minor children, and each party has sole physical custody of at least one child (“split” custody); and (3) if each parent enjoys more than 90 custodial days per year with their children (“shared” custody).
Many attorneys in Northern Virginia have programs that will automatically calculate the amount of support due under each of the above scenarios, but the Court does also provide worksheets explaining each formula, which are linked above.
Because the guidelines figure must be computed in every case, and is presumed to be the correct amount of child support, it is the child support amount awarded in the vast majority of cases. Therefore, people tend not to fight about whether or not the guidelines apply, but over the specific input numbers such as what figure to use for daycare costs, income, and the like.
Given all of the above variables, you can see that child support varies drastically based on, among other things, income, number of children, and schedule. The guidelines attempt to provide the children with a similar quality of life as the one they enjoyed during the marriage. Here are some basic guidlene application examples to give you an idea of how the various inputs interact with each other:
- Say Mother earns $60,000 per year and Father earns $85,000 per year, they have two minor children, share custody equally, and Mother covers the children on her health insurance at a cost of $150/month. In this shared custody scenario, guidelines child support would provide Mother with $303 per month.
- Using the same inputs as above, but providing Father with sole custody of the children (Mother receiving less than 90 days per year), guidelines would move such that Mother would be required to pay Father $651 per month.
- If each party had sole custody of one child (split custody), Father would pay Mother $295 per month in child support.
It is important to remember in every child support case that child support is non-taxable to the recipient, and non-tax-deductible to the payor.
In addition, the funds can be used by the recipient in whatever way he or she feels appropriate. Child support recipients do not have to provide an accounting of child support funds to the payor; nor do they have to spend the funds directly on the children. The Court understands that children benefit from funds spent directly on them (such as clothing purchases), and on funds spent indirectly for their benefit (such as payment of utility bills, car payments, and rent or mortgage).
Lastly, as I said above, child support guidelines represent the most common outcome in court, but they may or may not be appropriate in your case. Look for my upcoming blog post overview on deviating from the child support guidelines for more information of common deviation factors such as imputation of income (when a parent is making less than they should be), travel costs (typically when one parent lives out of state or abroad), and private school costs.