Negotiating child support can be one of the most challenging parts of divorcing. While your jurisdiction’s laws will provide some guidelines, it is still a complex issue with long-term ramifications for you, your child, and your former spouse. Having the best understanding of how child support is calculated and what factors are relevant to determining an appropriate level of support can save you a great deal of heartache and frustration.
Whether you and your Ex attempt to come up with your own plan to file with the court or your case goes to a judge to make the decision, there are elements of your lives that help determine what amount is fair and what other stipulations are in the best interest of your child. Here are some factors to be aware of when approaching conversations about child support.
Your and your Ex’s income both come into play. You will likely need to present previous tax returns, tax documents, or pay stubs. Consider not just base pay but stock options, ownership interests, bonuses, deferred compensation, or secondary income sources.
Revealing this information to someone you are divorcing can feel uncomfortable. Still, it is critical to determining how you will financially support your child as co-parents.
The “income share” method of determining child support, used by Utah and many other states to calculate child support, ensures that both parents contribute to the expenses associated with their child. The total amount paid is based mainly on income, but the custody arrangement also plays an important role.
Time Spent with Each Parent
The more time a child spends with one parent, the more expenses that parent will naturally cover. This is particularly true with overnight stays. The parent whose house the child sleeps at most often will naturally have more costs while caring for the child.
In shared custody situations, the more time and overnights the child spends with one parent, the more financial support that parent will need, or the less support the other parent will require.
The Child’s Activities
As children get older, there are often more expenses in addition to the necessities (ie., food, clothing, medical care, etc.) that you should consider in negotiations about child support. These expenses could include paying for music lessons or sports activities, daycare, before- and after-school care, private schools, or even future college expenses. It is also common to have a requirement to cover health insurance premiums or support for expected ongoing medical expenses.
Restrictions on How Support Funds are Spent
It can be tempting for the support-paying parent to want to control how the supported parent spends child-support funds. If part of their money is paying for clothing, they may feel they should be able to decide whether the shorts purchased with that money are too short. If they are helping pay for lessons, they may want to have a say in whether the child takes ballet lessons or plays football. This is not generally the way child support works, however.
Payment of support does not come with the ability to dictate how the other parent utilizes those funds. It is inappropriate for your Ex to ask to direct how the support is used, in most cases. When in doubt, consult with a family law practice, and be very wary of such requests.
Life Insurance Requirements
Consider addressing security for your child in the event of the co-parent’s death. The most frequent way of handling this is requiring the supporting parent or both parents to have a life insurance policy, with the child as beneficiary. This policy serves to offset the loss of child support should the co-parent pass away.
Consider the amount of the policy and its duration. Also, give careful consideration to who owns the policy. Without ownership of the policy, you can not make sure premiums are up to date or verify the beneficiary unless your spouse signs an agreement to allow you access to that information. The person who pays the premium does not need to be the one who owns the policy.
In your agreement, you may also need to include specifics about what happens if the spouse fails to pay the premiums on the policy.
Reviews of the Child Support Agreement
Over time, the finances of both parents and the expenses associated with a child change. Inflation also increases basic costs. Consider including a provision in your child support agreement that calls for periodic reviews to ensure that it can address any changing needs or situations.
If you’d like a guideline for estimating child support in Utah, here is the state’s child support calculator. This is only intended to give you an estimate. The relevant items from our list, or other factors, may cause the court’s decision to differ from the amount generated by the calculator. To determine what a child support agreement could look like for your specific situation, contact an experienced alimony attorney. They can help you present your case in court and fight for an equitable child support agreement.
Because child support is such a complex issue and has far-reaching implications for you and your child, it is often best to consult a divorce attorney. Failure to do so could cost you thousands and leave you less well-positioned to provide for your child. Modifying a support agreement can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, so it is essential to get it right the first time. Your divorce lawyer can help you do that, guiding you to the most beneficial agreement for yourself and your child.
Keep in mind that in Utah, you and your spouse can come to your own agreement on child support if you can agree on the other terms of your divorce as well. If not, you may reach an agreement through mediation or arbitration, or the decision may go to a judge. Regardless of how you arrive at the terms of your child support, all of the factors we discussed are important to keep in mind.
When parents divorce, establishing a fair and adequate child support plan is one of the most critical—yet tricky—topics to address. With this in mind, both parties must consider several factors when determining their arrangement. Use this infographic to help you become informed on the critical components of child support. It will provide an overview that can be invaluable in discussing such matters.