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.
The purpose of this series of six 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. This post will cover the basic definition of child support and will set parameters for how I’ll be talking about child support in the following five blog posts. The next two blog posts will focus on understanding and calculating the basic child support obligation. The three blog posts after that will cover the “add-on” or special support categories of child care, health care and educational expenses.
Before we get started, I need to give the standard attorney disclaimer. Because I’m not familiar with the intricacies of each reader’s particular situation, this information is meant to be a general primer and is not tailored to your particular circumstances. It shouldn’t be taken as any kind of legal advice. Please, please, please, don’t take this as legal advice!
What I’ve seen with my own clients is that having some basic understanding of what the law says can go a long way to quelling the natural anxieties that come up in a family law case. I know that family law topics like child support can feel really overwhelming because of the close family relationships and intense emotions that are involved. If you’re facing a child support issue in your family, the more confident and comfortable you feel in your own knowledge of how child support works, the better, so let’s get started.
What is Child Support?
By “child support,” I mean payments by a parent on behalf of a child, usually until that child turns 21 (in New York – 18 in many other states). Child support payments are generally non-taxable to the recipient parent, and non-tax deductible by the payor parent.
I find it helpful to think of child support, or a child support award, as being comprised of two parts. There’s the basic child support obligation, which is intended to cover expenses like food, shelter and clothing for the child. Basic child support is usually paid from one parent to the other to help support the child in the recipient’s home. Then, there are the “add-on” categorieswithin the child support award, which include child care, health care and educational expenses. These add-on expenses are often paid to a third party such as a doctor, babysitter or tutor. You’ll probably have a basic child support obligation, and I’ll cover that topic in more detail in my second and third posts in this series. What happens with the add-on categories is also predictable, but it will vary more in response to your family’s particular situation. I’ll talk you through what to expect in my third, fourth and fifth posts in this series.
You Can Decide The Right Child Support Award
The law allows parents to make their own decisions about how to support their children, within certain broad parameters. This means that you do not have to go to court to resolve a child support or other family law matter. You can reach an agreement outside of court. You also do not have to abide by exactly what a court might have done in your case. You can come up with your own tailored solution.
When people cannot reach an agreement about child support and look to a court to decide for them, New York State statutes and caselaw apply. In those cases, the law tells the judge how to calculate child support for the parties before them.
Many, probably most, of my clients who are separating or divorcing in a mediation or Collaborative Law process choose to fashion their own child support award. Many parents in a litigation process – over 90% of whom settle before trial – will fashion their own award, as well. The reasons for doing this could (and may one day) fill up an entirely different blog post.
Still, in order to fashion you own child support award, you have to make a knowing waiver of what you otherwise likely would have received or paid in child support had you handled your case in court. That means that you need to understand what a court-ordered or statutory amount of child support would be – or as close an estimate as can be made – before you can opt for a different amount that’s better suited to your particular situation.
Whether you’re planning on going to court or making your own, independent agreements about child support in a settlement-focused process (like mediation or Collaborative Law), you stillneed to understand what would likely happen in court. That’s why I’m going to talk about it in detail over the next five blog posts.
So, to summarize what I covered above:
- Child support = payments by a parent for a child’s support, in one of two primary categories: (i) the basic child support obligation or (ii) additional (“add-on”) or special areas of health, education and child care.
- The law allows you to make your own decisions about child support. You don’t have to go to court and have a judge make decisions for you. But, you do need to understand what would likely happen if you did go to court.