Loving parents want the best for their children. Families in the emotional turmoil of divorce often have difficulty reaching a financial arrangement that is both fair and provides adequately for the child's health, education and overall well-being.
When courts step in to calculate child support, they do so with guidance from Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration.
As Birmingham Child Support Attorney Steven Eversole can explain, this calculation factors in the parent's gross income with the number of children for which support is needed.
Courts are also likely to consider:
- Day care expenses
- Family health insurance costs
- Time spent with children (custody and parenting time)
- Employment status
- Income of both parents
In order to glean much of this information, parents will be asked to fill out and attach a Child Support Obligation Income Statement/Affidavit (Form CS-41), a Child Support Guidelines worksheet (Form CS-42) and a Basic Child Support Obligation Schedule.
Deciding Support Obligations
Ultimately, these figures get plugged into a formula, and support obligations are tallied that way.
So for example, let's say the non-custodial parent earns $1,200 a month, while the custodial parent earns $1,800. The court would look at their combined total income, which would be $3,000. Based on the child support guideline schedule, that would amount to a monthly payment of $579 for one child. However, the non-custodial parent would only be responsible for 40 percent of that (as they only earn 40 percent of the gross income). That would mean he or she would be responsible for $231 a month for that one child.
But, if that parent also paid for health insurance and day care costs, that amount could be further reduced.
This is not to say the family courts in Alabama have no discretion when it comes to calculating child support. They do. However, any deviation from the child support guidelines as laid forth in Rule 32 needs to be justified.
Deviation from Child Support Guidelines
The courts do have the possibility of adjusting child support schedules in light of varying circumstances.
For example, a judge could decide to decrease child support obligations for a parent who has taken on a substantial amount of additional parenting time. The judge could also decide to deviate when a parent is laid off or when one gets a significant pay raise.
Other examples of accepted reasons for deviation:
- Shared physical custody (for periods of physical custody/care of children by obligor parent substantially in excess of what is ordered/approved by the court);
- Heavy cost of transportation unfairly shouldered by one parent
- Expenses for higher education incurred prior to child reaching age of majority
- Other factors that may contribute to the best interests of children
Alabama law doesn't provide a standard method for adjusting support, so the courts have broad discretion in these cases. It's up to the judge to decide when strict application of the Alabama Child Support Guidelines would not be fair.
However, the judge has to specify in writing the exact reason for deviating from guidelines set forth under state law. That helps to ensure such decisions that directly affect the well-being of children aren't done arbitrarily.
Imputing Income in Child Support Calculations
There are sometimes unfortunate situations in which a parent may attempt to skirt their responsibility to pay child support by either quitting a decent-paying job or slacking when it comes to a good faith search for a job.
We have sadly seen examples wherein a parent with a high-paying, high-skilled job quits that post and takes on a lower-paid job in an effort to avoid paying child support.
Courts don't have much tolerance for this kind of deception. A finding by the court that a parent became voluntarily unemployed or underemployed will result in the court imputing the income of that parent for purposes of child support payments. This means that rather than basing the support amount on what the parent is actually earning, the court will weigh the parent's earning potential.
In so doing, the judge will analyze:
- Recent history of employment
- Education level
- Career qualifications
- Existing work opportunities
- Earning levels within that region for those types of jobs
Modification/Termination of Child Support
Once a child support order has been set, the only way to have it altered or terminated is through a court order.
A parent seeking a child support modification needs to show there has been a material change in circumstance. This can be a tough bar to reach, because there are many cases in which a parent may have multiple, valid concerns about the current support obligations. However, they might still not meet the criteria for a “material change in circumstance.”
Courts may have varying interpretation, but it has generally included things like:
- A parent's loss or change of a job, resulting in a substantial loss of income
- A parent's promotion or job transfer, resulting in a significant pay raise
- Changes in cost for child care
- Changes in cost for health care insurance
- One parent moves out-of-state, resulting in higher parenting time costs
- A child has reached the age of majority
These are just a few examples. Circumstances warranting modification aren't limited to these.