Support hearings are cold, and this observation has nothing to do with the external temperature. A Domestic Relations Officer (“DRO”) arrives at a support decision using only numbers and documentation, unlikely to entertain “sob stories” or listen to a rundown of all of the reasons why an individual cannot pay support. Because the decisions are based solely on numbers, there must be something extraordinary about your circumstance to receive any deviation from the guideline amount.
These hearings may seem cold-hearted, and many individuals may walk away feeling upset, believing that the DRO must have made a mistake somewhere. Worse, many may feel that they were cheated out of something, or that their concerns were unheard or ignored. Having an attorney with you will certainly help to protect your interests, and knowing exactly what circumstances affect your monthly support obligation can help you to have more realistic expectations. So what circumstances affect your support obligation?
1. Health Insurance. In cases involving children, the Court will obligate one party to provide medical insurance for the children if the insurance is available to them at a reasonable cost, or less than 5% of the individual’s gross income. If the individual paying support also provided the insurance, their support obligation will be proportionally reduced. If the individual receiving support provides insurance, the individual paying support can expect to have an increased support obligation. This design helps to balance the responsibility of providing health insurance for the children.
2. Childcare. In addition to requiring parent’s to provide health insurance for the minor children, the Court will also obligate the parties to pay a portion of childcare arrangement. To be clear, the Court only refers to childcare utilized for the parent to go to work or necessary appointments. This arrangement does not extend to those times when a parent utilizes childcare so they can attend an event or other type of recreational activity without the children. In cases where each party pays for their own childcare, this circumstance may be excluded from the support calculation if the cost is approximately equal for each party. As with the health insurance, if the individual paying support provides the childcare, they will receive a reduction in their monthly payment. If the individual receiving support also provides childcare, the individual paying support will have an increased monthly support obligation to balance the costs.
3. Children’s Activities. All of the children’s activities, such as sports, camps, and school events, may be included in the support calculation, however, this provision is not a requirement. The parties must agree as to whether an activity or the cost of an activity will be included in the support calculation. If they cannot reach an agreement, the costs will not be included, leaving the financial responsibility to the party who enrolled the child in that particular activity.
4. Mortgages. In situation where the parties are married and only one of them is residing in and paying the mortgage for the marital residence, they may be eligible for a deviation. Sub-section (e) of Rule 1910.16-6 notes that mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and homeowners’ insurance may need to be considered. Second mortgages, home equity loans, and other obligations secured by the marital residence are left to the Court to determine whether they should be included. The expenses to maintain the marital residence can be considered if the total expense exceeds 25% of the obligee’s (party receiving support) or obligor’s (party paying support) income. Due to the 25% threshold, it is easy to see that parties can be excluded from receiving the mortgage deviation despite feeling as though the mortgage payment is a hardship.
5. Mandatory Retirement. Mandatory retirement and mandatory union dues will be deducted from an individual’s gross income during the calculation of net income if these two items are truly mandatory. The rationale here is that there is no possible way for the individual to recapture any of these funds, unlike voluntarily placing funds into a 401(k), where you may be able to lower your deposit or stop depositing altogether for a period of time. The money being paid into a 401(k) will be included in your net income.
6. Custody Schedule. Finally, your custody schedule can affect your support obligation. If the individual paying support has more than 120 overnights each calendar year, they can expect a reduction in support. This reduction will grow until the parties reach a 50/50 custody schedule. Remember, balance is the Court’s goal when calculating support.
Each of these areas affect your support to varying degrees, so to get an accurate calculation, it is important to bring documentation. In cases without children, a pay stub may suffice. In other cases with more of these circumstances, you might need to bring schedules, receipts, etc. Support is always based on numbers and documentation, so don’t just say you pay $1,000 each month in childcare, prove it.
If you have a support hearing, or if you’ve had one and believe there was an error in the calculation, I suggest contacting my office to discuss the ways in which I can help to get you the best results. Support is cold as ice, but working with a knowledgeable attorney can help make the experience seem less cold.
This article was written by Jennifer Dickquist, owner and attorney at JD Law.
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