The law clearly states that both parents are legally responsible for financially supporting a minor child (under age 18) or an adult child (unmarried full-time high school student who is not self-supporting). Support is required to continue until the child completes the 12th grade (assuming child is 18 at time of graduation) or attains age 19, whichever occurs first.
Guideline Child Support
Family Code sections 4050 to 4076 provide what are known as statewide uniform guidelines for making child support awards. Uniform guidelines are presumed to be correct.
Based on numerous factors, the court will set guideline child support. Factors for calculating guideline child support include, but are not limited to the following factors:
- Number of minor children
- Percentage of visitation for the non-custodial parent
- Gross income of father—from all sources
- Gross income of mother—from all sources
- Filing tax status for mother and for father
- Number of federal exemptions for mother and for father
- Tax exemptions for both parents (if any)
To calculate guideline child support, the courts use specialized software. The most common software programs are DissoMaster and SupporTax. The user inputs the appropriate information into the software program and the software program automatically calculates the appropriate amount of guideline child support.
Besides issuing orders regarding guideline child support, the court will issue additional orders—known as mandatory add-ons. Mandatory add-ons include the following:
- child-care costs related either to employment and/or reasonably necessary for the education and training for a parent’s employment skills
- Reasonable uninsured health-care costs, e.g. co-pays, deductibles, and other medically-related out-of-pocket expenses. Medical expenses include dental and vision.
Health Insurance Coverage for Minor Children
When considering child-support issues, the court will look to whether the parents have access to no-cost or reasonably-priced health insurance (to include dental care and vision care coverage). Any payments for health-insurance premiums are in excess of guideline child-support payments.
Unlike “mandatory add-ons” discretionary add-ons are not mandatory; hence the reason they are called discretionary. Discretionary add-ons include, but are not limited to, lessons (karate, gymnastics), summer camp, and any other expense that is not necessary to maintain the basic well-being of a child.
Problems in Setting Guideline Child Support
In an ideal world, calculating guideline child support would be an easy task for the parties and the court. The problem herein is that most cases do not fit into a cookie-cutter mold. Below is a list of examples that make the ability to calculate guideline support complicated and time-consuming:
- Alleged father denies paternity—therefore, insisting on DNA testing before allowing court to consider issuing guideline child support orders;
- One or more parents is self-employed—making it very difficult to ascertain correct gross income for parent(s);
- Allegations that non-custodial parent refusing to work—requiring court to issue additional orders, such as seek-work orders, a vocational evaluation and/or “imputing income” to one or both parents;
- Allegations that custodial parent taking deliberate steps to hide child and prevent and/or interfere with visitation—in order to increase the amount awarded in guideline child support;
- Parent(s) hiding income or failing to disclose all sources of income
- Parent(s) intentionally or unintentionally providing incomplete or incorrect information to the court, resulting in incorrect guideline calculations and/or delayed ability to award support.
One or more of the factors outlined above can cause an otherwise simple request to take months to years to resolve, instead of weeks.
How can Ms. Garrett help?
Ms. Garrett is available to provide coaching services in connection with the following:
- Identifying problems regarding calculating guideline support to include providing strategies to improve a successful outcome—as the payor or as the payee;
- Coaching you in making the strongest arguments to the court;
- Explaining the law in connection with child-support matters
- Issue-spotting the other parent’s weaknesses and using those weaknesses to your advantage, as well as issuing spotting your weaknesses and working with you to minimize those weaknesses;
- Outlining the law and legal procedures in connection with child-support motions to include, but not limited to: types of documents you need to file with the court and serve on the other parent, deadlines for filing and serving documents and other important procedures;
- Providing instructions regarding preparing your Income & Expense Declaration; and reviewing and explaining the other party’s Income & Expense Declaration to include finding “red flags” to bring to the court’s attention;
- Preparing for your day in court—to include helping you to make your best arguments to the court and identifying to the court the other party’s weaknesses, mistakes and/or errors.
- Answering any questions you have in connection with child-support issues;
- Explaining how to prepare a DissoMaster guideline support calculation.
To determine if legal coaching is right for you, Contact Ms. Garrett.