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Child Support and Alimony

cash moneyFew issues about divorce get the pulse racing like child support and alimony. Perhaps its because they are topics that aren't spoken about out in the open, and are discussed in whispers or through clenched teeth. Perhaps it's because they are discussed in the midst of pain, and many of us don't want to "pry". Knowledge is peace of mind, and the more information one has about the process, the less anxiety about the future.

Child support is regulated by the individual states and their respective laws. There is more uniformity across the states than there are differences. Most states created these guidelines to maintain eligibility for federal funding of the child support enforcement program which is called the Family Support Act of 1988. All states hold that the 'best interests of the child' prevail and over-ride all other concerns. In the last few decades, all 50 states and Puerto Rico have adopted formulas or models for paying child support, and those guidelines appear in each state's divorce statutes. Those models are:

Income Shares - Not without controversy, the Income Shares method of computing child support has been embraced by 37 states. It is a formula that in theory uses estimates of the cost of raising children using government-released figures. Income Shares aims to use both parents' incomes, computes the percentage each parent's income contributes to the whole, and as a percentage of the overall amount assigns am amount due.

Percentage % of Obligor Income - also known as the Wisconsin model. Ten states use this method. Narrower in focus than Income Shares, 'Percent-of-Income' bases amounts on the non-custodial's income.

Delaware -Melson - Applies parents' income to a formula but in deference to the above two methods allows for the "ability to pay" in the equation. Three states use this method. Note: Massachusetts uses a hybrid of the above methods.

Alimony describes payments made by one ex-spouse to the other. In some states this is called maintenance or spousal support. Not many states have alimony laws on the books, leaving courts to be guided by case law and precedent. In the past states and their family courts have routinely granted long-term alimony for long-term marriages. In recent years that trend seems to be waning. Most states and their family courts grant alimony in cases where one spouse is economically disadvantaged by the divorce and needs rehabilitative maintenance over a shorter period of time; the purpose being to allow the less self-sufficient person to become self-supporting over a specific period of time through education or special training. Alimony is also more common in situations where one parent stayed home to care for children while the other spouse worked outside the home.


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Child Support And Alimony Questions and Answers

Child Support

I'm in a panic about how my kids and I will live after the divorce. How do I find out how much child support we can count on?
In the absence of an agreement by you and your spouse, your particular state has child support guidelines that courts are directed to follow. It's important to note you and your spouse can reach agreements so the court doesn't have to. As the saying goes, the state has a plan if you don't. Occasionally the courts make orders outside the guidelines. The most immediate way to get answers and amounts would be to use an on-line child support calculator. Check your state's handling of child support.
Is there a possibility that we can agree to child support amounts outside our state's guidelines?
Yes, courts will agree to exceptions if it views the agreement(s) as being in the best interest of the children and addresses all needs and concerns. An example of this would be where parents agree to share equally their time with their children. Parents can agree on special expenses (tutors, private schools, travel, etc) that impact the exchange of money. Prove to the court that your children's best interest is served, and you're good to go.
Will it be possible to adjust child support amounts once the judge's order is in place?
Yes, most jurisdictions recognize that support needs to remain flexible. As children grow, they tend to require more financial assistance (child support). Activities and clothing account for much of the increased demand. The guidelines determined by your state will dictate how often child support can be adjusted (every 2 or 3 years). Most states have that provided for on their state web pages. Refer to the links on your state divorce laws page. Some couples agree to mediate any child support adjustments in the future.
Until what age will the child support payments be required to be made?
The age at which child support payments terminate depends on the state you live in and its guidelines. New York is age 21, Georgia is age 18 or high school graduation whichever occurs first, Pennsylvania is also age 18 or high school graduation, whichever happens first. Colorado on the other hand has age 19 as the age of emancipation. Massachusetts is 23 if still going to school. Speak with your attorney if you wish to have other details in your agreement See Emancipation.
Does the child support money I receive need to be documented in any way, and must I spend it all directly on them?
To our knowledge no state requires that you document where you spend child support monies. These payments are intended to cover expenses, which include household expenses such as food, rent/mortgage, electricity and other general expenses. Some experts suggest you do keep some record of expenses so that you know what it does and doesn't cover.
What about the kids health care? While we were married my spouse's health plan at work covered them and me.
Check with your attorney to determine if your state makes provision for health care (not all do). You may need to negotiate these details if it isn't mandated by your state. Having your ex pay for your personal health benefits is less likely than for the kids, so you may wish to begin exploring alternatives. Keep in mind that if they are covered by insurance, you are negotiating what insurance doesn't pay.
Who will be responsible for paying for health care amounts and how is that determined?
It depends on whether your state's child support statutes cover that or not. In many cases states require the higher wage earner to pay insurance premiums and a larger proportion of expenses not covered by insurance. Your agreement should address future dental care (and orthodontia) and other potential medical needs (e.g. psychiatrists, psychotherapists) or any other area of health care.
He tells me he can't afford to pay both child support and day care expenses, and I know I can't. What now?
If you two can't agree on this right away, you can request a temporary or permanent order from the court directing your spouse to pay for day care. You can negotiate this issue though, for the future. If you can't agree and there is no temporary order, child care would likely be suspended and whatever damage comes from that will result.
The kids will spend summers every year with me. Must I continue to pay full child support even though they are here with me?
The court order that becomes your divorce decree requires that you pay a certain amount periodically. You cannot change that unless you negotiate it beforehand and have it specified in your agreement or go back to court. Remember that expenses still occur at the children's primary home even though they are with you.
I want my kids to go to college, but my soon-to-be-ex isn't convinced it is the best option for them. What do I do?
This will depend on your ex being agreeable to paying college costs. Your very best option is to get an agreement to pay college costs in the settlement agreement during divorce, and have the agreement be incorporated into the final divorce decree. Consider setting up custodial education savings accounts like 529 Plans, UGMA, UTMA and the like. See a handy College for Saving web site
Even though I will be the custodial parent, my spouse tells me I will be required to pay him child support. Is that true?
Your state guidelines will determine that. It is usually the case that the custodial parent bears the brunt of the expenses for the children, and receives child support from the other spouse. Remember, the custodian is contributing too. There are odd instances where the custodian pays the non-custodian. Illinois requires such treatment. Check with your attorney.
What happens if my spouse dies? Is there any provision by the state so that we will continue to get child support?
Technically, the answer is no. If he died intestate (without a will), your kids would be immediate heirs. You should be sure some provision is made in the divorce agreement. Life insurance is one solution, and you'll need to agree on who pays for the policy. Another consideration would be requiring child support be paid by one's estate using a last will.
I pay child support to my first ex now. How will that affect my payments for this divorce?
In general, states treat the children from a previous marriage as primary considerations when one has children by two or more women. This does not relieve him of responsibility, however. He will pay a somewhat smaller percentage than one with only one family, but he will be required to pay. An on-line child support calculator should answer the how much question.
I've lost my job, and my ex has agreed to take lower child support payments until I get another job. Can this come back to haunt me?
Maybe. This works especially when you are paying your ex directly. Get an agreement in writing from her that she will accept less and that she won't come back later for the remainder. There might be a period of less cooperation in the future, and your ex may claim you owe the difference. If you are required to pay via the court or through your state enforcement unit, an agreement in writing may not satisfy them, and they can demand the original higher amount. You may have to get court approval in that case.
If one of us remarries, how does that affect child support?
Remarriage is frequently a concern during mediation or divorce proceedings. You can mediate an alternative plan in the event of remarriage, or you can agree to mediate another one in the future. Your state may require modification if a remarriage occurs, you are the paying parent and there are children from the new marriage. Have your lawyer explain the impact of a second family. Some former spouses are shocked when support goes down when their former partner has children in a subsequent family.
The husband tells me he is losing his position at work and will have to take a lower paying one, and needs to lower child support payments. What are my choices?
His situation at work doesn't change his child support obligation or amount paid. If he asks you to accept lower amounts, that's your choice to make. He may not ask, and simply file a motion for an adjustment, at which time you can agree or contest it. If he is found to have reduced his income intentionally to have child support lowered, he can be made to continue the higher amount.
My spouse gets paid under-the-table. How can I get a fair estimate of his income?
He will be required to produce records that state and prove his income. In most cases it will be you and your attorney's decision to accept his claim to income, or contest it. If you contest it, you will be forced to litigate it, causing additional expense that you may or may not recover. Weigh your options carefully with your attorney.
I want to do right by my kids, and I can afford to pay more child support than is required. Should I agree to that in writing?
Be careful about agreeing to it in writing. You can always do more, or pay more, without it in writing. Your situation may change, preventing you from making the extra effort, and would require a trip back to court to amend your agreement.
My spouse's income can vary greatly from one year to the next. How do I protect the kids and get the child support they deserve?
In most states, you really have two choices with respect to consistent child support payments. You can expect and demand the amount determined by your state's child support guidelines, or you can agree to take less. If you agree to take less, it might be as a percentage of income with a minimum built in. Rely on the child support laws or be open to negotiation. You don't have to negotiate however. It's your choice.
I want to pay more child support than I am required to in order to benefit my children, and wonder if that can be considered "paying forward" in the event I am unable to pay in the future.
The only way that paying more than is required could be considered paying forward your obligation is if your ex agrees to that, and again, if it is in writing, you're covered. Most custodial parents don't accept such an offer though, as the extra child support rarely goes unspent.
I want to get the ball rolling so we can start receiving child support, but my spouse just makes excuses. Is there a quick way to contact the state to get help in receiving support from my spouse?
Yes, go to the Office of Child Support Enforcement web site and locate your state.
What will the child support agency need from me in order to process my claim for receiving support?

The agency will need information about you and the other parent. Bring as much as you can gather from the list below:

name address and social security number of both parents

your spouse's employer (name and address)

any child support oders, separation agreements or divorce decrees where available

information about his or her income or assets e.g. bank accounts, pay stubs, tax returns, property ownership or investments.

facts about your income and assets. Include details about expenses for your child’s health care, daycare, or special needs

records of any past child support payments

skip trace information - names of friends, relatives or groups he or she may belong to.

birth certificates of any children.

a physical description of your spouse. If you can include a photograph, it would be helpful in cases of a missing parent.

if paternity is in doubt, any corresponce from your spouse that includes an admission of being the parent to your child.

If I can't force my ex to pay child support, and the state can't force him to pay, how will we eat and keep a roof over our heads?
Speak with the people in your local child support enforcement office. There are a variety of tools each state uses to coerce a parent into paying. If it comes to survival, the Federal Government makes programs available to temporarily clothe and feed you until your situation improves.

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Under what circumstances will alimony be granted?
Alimony is money paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce for the purpose of financial support. Both husbands and wives are appropriate candidates for alimony. The frequency of alimony awards appear to be decreasing with time. Alimony is intended to support the dependent person until they can become independent. Some states, like Texas, require 10 years of marriage before alimony is considered. Most states do not have that 10 year minimum, however. Click on your state from the list to the left and view alimony details.
My spouse has been caught cheating. I want him to pay for his transgressions financially in asset division and alimony. What must I do?
The impact of marital misconduct varies from state to state. There are states and judges that give it some weight, but most do not. Ask your lawyer what impact his infidelity can have on your proceedings.
How do we determine how much alimony is the right amount of alimony?
One needs to determine a spouse's ability to pay alimony and how much. Without respect to marital misconduct, you should consider the assets and income of both parties, your earning capacities, how long your marriage lasted, the age of your children, if special considerations need to be addressed, how taxes will impact you both (remember, alimony is taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible to the paying spouse). Are there any pre-nups or marital agreements? Most states have not enacted alimony statutes, and local courts use case law as guidance.
I'm being awarded lifetime alimony. What kind of conditions can they put on me so I can continue that?
It's going to depend on the laws in your state. Most states allow for the termination of alimony when the receiving sporse remarries. Some require termination if the recipient cohabits with someone. Get this covered by your lawyer.
What happens to alimony payments if my spouse's income changes drastically?
We presume you mean drastically lower. Remember that the alimony obligation is part of a court order, and unless you two have made provision (in writing) for this event, you'll need to reach a new agreement now or go back to court. The alimony amount won't change unless one of you requests a change by the court.
Is there any certainty about alimony payments? Can I get it from his estate if he dies?
The answer to your first question is no, there is no certainty. In most cases it ends when the ex dies, unless you have a constructive agreement in writing, or he has made provisions in his will. Considerations can include life insurance policies or insurance annuities that get created at death to fund payments to you. See a financial planner for more detail.
How does the IRS treat alimony?
The IRS considers alimony a tax deduction to the person who pays alimony, and taxable income to the recipient of alimony.
My spouse and I were married just over 8 years. She says she won't agree to a divorce until we hit 10 years, which she says, qualifies her for alimony. I dispute this. Who is right?
Your situation has too many variables to provide an answer. Few states (Texas is a notable exception) require by statute that a marriage be a minimum of 10 years for alimony to be considered. We often hear the 10 year number because courts tend to use being married ten years as a standard even if it isn't stated in any law. Some states consider the marriage over at the filing for divorce. Most alimony is awarded based on case law (previous cases) so a local attorney would be knowledgeable about how local judges rule.

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