Officially, determining visitation (or parenting time) and child custody is a process that's separate from calculating child support, two distinct parts of family law. That said, there is, of course, some interplay between these two aspects of a divorce or family law case, and one can still have a substantial impact on the other. We’ll take a look at some of these impacts and answer some common questions we get in this realm.
Defining Our Terms for Parenting Time & Paying Child Support
First, a couple of notes on terminology: “Visitation” is no longer used to describe the time a child spends with a noncustodial parent. Instead, this is what “parenting time” refers to, while visitation is used only if it’s supervised visitation or visitation with grandparents.
Primary custody and parenting time are decided according to what a family law court agrees is in the best interests of the child, while child support is about making sure each child’s needs are met.
The parent paying child support is sometimes called the “obligor,” and the calculations for child support involve everything from a parent’s weekly income, their necessary expenses such as other support obligations, and the extent of the child’s needs.
Answering Common Child Support & Parenting Time Questions
While referencing Massachusetts’ child support guidelines can be a helpful starting point, these guidelines were made under the assumption that the recipient of child support is the parent with primary custody, while the paying parent, or obligor, is the one paying support.
In the past, mothers consistently won primary custody, with the norm being that fathers paid child support. Now, shared custody is more common than ever, and the higher earner in a relationship isn’t always going to be the father.
Cases with Primary Custody & Parenting Time Arrangements
In situations with, for example, a 70/30 split of primary custody and parenting time, then child support is calculated by using the guidelines to determine what the obligor might be ordered to pay, based on their weekly income (though other financial factors can also affect this). If a parent’s available weekly income is in between two of the incomes listed on the chart, then the court will go with the lower one. The amount is per child, so if there are multiple children, then the amount would be multiplied as needed.
Again, the guidelines chart is just a starting point. The amount would be plugged into the guidelines worksheet to determine not just parental income but also the extent of each child’s needs, factoring that into the final child support order.
If the parent who owes child support has between one-third and one-half of the parenting responsibilities, the family court will do a calculation to determine an appropriate amount of child support. This means they might run the calculations first as if the obligor had one-third parenting time, then if they had one-half of custody, then find the average between the two.
Cases with Shared Custody
One of the most common questions we get here at Miller Law Group, P.C. goes something like this: “If I have the children half the time, do I get a break on child support?” Or phrased another way, “What happens to child support when the other party and I share custody equally?”
While custody and support are separate, the reality is that courts expect parents to be paying for their child’s necessities while they reside with them, to a certain extent. That said, when there is a disparity between each parent’s incomes, child support may still be deemed necessary by the court in order to meet all of a child’s needs.
In a 50/50 custody split then, the amount of child support to be received gets calculated for both parents, each as if they had primary custody. Then you would subtract the amount for the parent with lower income from the parent with higher income. Whatever remains is what the higher earner could be required to pay.
For an example, in a 70/30 split, the obligor might be required to pay, say, $500 a week for one child, not only because they have the 30% parenting time part of the custody arrangement, but also because they’re the higher earner. With the same incomes involved but an equal 50/50 split, the higher earner might only be paying $230 a week. This is just a simple example, and many child support calculations aren’t nearly as straightforward.
Of course, judges aren’t beholden to the guidelines. If a child has special needs, or parents want a different arrangement, it is possible for a court to decide to agree to a different child support order. Whatever the details of child support needs and custody arrangements, the amount on the chart is then subject to other calculations based on your child’s needs and what else your income has to go toward, like medical insurance.
Remember, Child Custody Isn’t About Child Support
Sadly, we have seen our share of cases in which the child’s parents fight for custody primarily so they can receive child support. A word of caution: most judges can spot this. And it is certainly harmful for the kids involved when custody and/or child support disputes are about “winning”, and not about focusing on what’s in the child’s best interests throughout the process. If the other parent has lost sight of this, a skilled attorney can help get the process back on track so that your kid’s well-being and future aren’t harmed.
How Our Child Support Attorneys Can Help You
Child support guidelines are the same statewide, but these proceedings are handled differently from court to court. This is because all judges interpret the law and apply the facts of each case differently. This is why it is so beneficial to retain a law firm that is familiar with each of the family court judges. At Miller Law Group, P.C., we have lawyers working at each of the local courthouses, and we are well-versed in what each family judge looks for in a case. With our decades of world-class experience, we know how to help our clients successfully navigate even complex family law matters with their rights intact and their children’s best interests upheld.
To learn more about how we could help you in a child support or parenting time case, we invited you to contact Miller Law Group, P.C. today for a free legal evaluation!