On February 1, 2020, new child support laws went into effect. The changes are extensive, and if you collect or pay child support, you will almost certainly be affected.
The first significant change is that there are no longer any maximums or minimums for child support. If you have a sufficiently large income, your support obligation may have been reduced to the maximum allowed by the old law. If that's the case, the amount you pay in child support may be on the rise. On the other hand, if you are incarcerated or at the other end of the income scale, you may have been forced to pay a minimum of $100 per month per child, racking up arrears when you were unable to pay. In that situation, the new law extends a helping hand by eliminating that mandatory minimum.
The next significant change is to what exactly qualifies as income. Under the previous statutes, a family court judge had full leeway to consider whatever he or she wanted as income, even contributions or allowances you received from your employer. Now, the judge can only consider certain types of income, including the following: salary/wages, interest, capital gains, federal disability payments, Social Security benefits, pension, and retirement disbursements, worker's compensation, and personal injury claim proceeds, unemployment benefits, severance pay, 401(k) contributions, undistributed business income, and alimony, among other things. The judge can no longer consider received child support, foster care payments, SNAP (food stamps), Supplemental Security Income, or almost any other form of public assistance, be it county, state, or federal, as income for the purposes of child support.
Child support used to be calculated as a flat percentage of the payer's monthly income, based upon the number of children. Now, it's going to be more complicated, with a tiered system very much like how federal income tax is calculated. No, you're not going to have to fill out a tax return for your child support, but the payer's income will be broken down into portions of the gross monthly income, and each portion will have a different percentage applied to it to determine how much support should be paid.
Perhaps one of the most positive changes is that parents can now agree on how much child support is to be paid. The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parents, state what the support obligation would be using the new calculations, including each parent's gross monthly income, declare that the minor child(ren) are not receiving any public assistance (that includes TANF), state that the basic needs of the minor child(ren) are met or exceeded by the amount agreed upon, and state that both parents understand that a new amount using the new child support formulas will be calculated by the judge if either parent changes his or her mind or no longer agrees with the agreed-upon amount. The family court judge must approve the agreement, and the judge can deny the agreement if the judge believes that the agreement is coerced or doesn't meet the basic needs of the child(ren).
Daycare and other child-care expenses, as well as your child(ren)'s medical expenses, are now required by law to be split among the parents so long as they are reasonable. A parent will not have to purchase health insurance if Medicaid covers the child(ren), nor if the cost will exceed 5% of the parent's gross monthly income.
Finally, there is a provision for when child support will end. While it's a very welcome addition to the child support laws, when child support ends is not actually the very straightforward matter we would have hoped for. It all depends on the number of children, and whether an amount has been allocated for each child.
You may believe that you don't need an attorney, but the truth is that the new child support laws can be complicated and less than straightforward. The Law Office of Warren G. Freeman, PLLC prepared for these changes and is ready to assist you with your child support questions and needs. Please contact us right away to set up a consultation so that we can prepare you for these changes and provide peace of mind so that you can focus on what really matters: being a parent.