The purpose of this series of blog posts is to guide you through the basics of calculating child support in New York State and to leave you feeling comfortable and confident in your understanding of New York child support law.
Most parents going through a separation or divorce, whether they’re in mediation, Collaborative Law or in a court-based litigation process, are aware that some form of child support payments will be warranted in their case – if they have children under 21. But the details of exactly what amount of child support to expect can get confusing.
In the last post, I talked about the basic child support obligation, which is the initial part of a child support award. I described how parental income is calculated and the central role it plays in determining the basic child support obligation. This post will help you understand how the number of children in a family impacts the basic child support calculation and will walk you through calculating the basic child support obligation from beginning to end.
What Is The Basic Child Support Obligation? (A Recap)
The basic child support obligation is the initial part of a child support award. It ensures that both parents are contributing to their child’s care and support. The basic child support obligation is intended to cover expenses like food, clothing and shelter for the child. A court’s calculation of the basic child support obligation is a function of two things, primarily: the parents’ income and the number of children in the family.
Child Support Percentages
How does the number of children in the family impact the basic child support obligation?
The law assigns a child support percentage based on the number of children in a family (up to 5+). For 1 child, it’s 17%. For 2 kids, it’s 25%. For 3 kids, it’s 29%. And so on. The corresponding child support percentage is then applied to the combined parental income to come up with the basic child support obligation.
Calculating the Basic Child Support Obligation
How exactly is the child support percentage applied to the parental income?
In applying the child support percentage to the combined parental income, it helps to think of the parental income in two portions: (i) the portion that is at or below $136,000 and (ii) the portion that is above $136,000. (Be aware that $136,000 is a number set by statute and subject to increase every other year.)
Combined Parental Income At or Below $136,000
For the portion of combined parental income at or below $136,000, the law is very clear. You apply the corresponding child support percentage to the lower of $136,000 or the combined parental income. Let’s use our example case from my previous post and assume that the couple has two children. The corresponding child support percentage is 25%. When applied to $136,000 (i.e., the lower of $136,000 or the couple’s $300,000 in combined parental income), it gives you the first part of the basic child support obligation: $31,500.
The law apportions pro rata shares of responsibility for that $31,500 between the parents. In our example couple, Mom earned $200,000 per year, and Dad earned $100,000. Thus, Mom would be responsible for 67% of the first portion of the basic child support obligation, and Dad would be responsible for 33% of it.
Child support payments are made from the parent with whom the children spend less time (the “non-custodial” parent) to the parent with whom the children spend more time (the “custodial” or “residential” parent). In cases where the children split their time evenly between households, the higher-earning parent pays the lower-earning parent. Thus, if the children primarily lived with Dad, Mom would be responsible for paying him 67% of $31,500, or about $21,000 per year to Dad. Dad would not need to pay himself his 33% responsibility for the basic child support obligation, or $10,500 per year.
Combined Parental Income Above $136,000
The combined parental income of our example couple is $300,000. We’ve already applied the child support percentage to the first $136,000 of income, and $31,500 (or 25% of $136,000) is now considered part of the basic child support obligation. We’ve got $164,000 of combined parental income left to account for.
For that additional $164,000, the court has more discretion than it does with the first $136,000 of combined parental income. This means that the results are slightly less predicable. The court has the discretion to apply the same percentage (in this case, 25%) to the remaining combine parental income, or to a portion of that income, or to come up with an entirely separate amount of child support due, based on consideration of about ten different factors spelled out in the law.
Parental Income Cap
If you and your spouse have $1,000,000 in combined parental income and two kids, will the court apply 25% to $1,000,000 and find a basic child support obligation of $250,000 per year? Very likely not.
It is common practice for courts in New York to assign a cap to the combined parental income – recently as high as $400,000 in New York City – and to apply the appropriate child support percentage up to that cap.
In our example case, with combined parental income of $300,000, the court might set the cap on combined parental income around $225,000. (It might also set the cap higher or lower than $225,000. This is impossible to predict with perfect accuracy!) It would then apply the child support percentage (25%) to the remainder of that number above $136,000. $225,000 minus $136,000 = $114,000. The resulting number, $28,500 (25% of $114,000), would be added to the basic child support obligation of $31,500 from above.
So, the first portion of the basic child support obligation would be $31,500 (25% of $136,000), and the second portion of the basic child support obligation could be an additional $28,500. Of that latter number, Mom’s responsibility to Dad would be 67%, or $19,000.
In the end, assuming the children reside primarily with Dad, and that Mom is the child support payor, she would owe Dad $40,000 per year as her share of the basic child support obligation. The first $21,000 of that number is easy to predict. The latter is up to the court’s discretion, and $19,000 would be a reasonable estimate, based on our example couple’s finances.