After a separation or divorce, life keeps moving forward. For many, it can feel like the start of a new chapter. You are likely to go on and build new relationships. You may even end up having more kids. With changes in circumstances, such as a new child, you may wonder how that can impact something like child support obligations in regards to your child or children from a previous relationship. Here, we will address if and how having another child can impact child support obligations.
I had another child, can I get child support reduced?
First and foremost, it must be made clear that having another child will not, in and of itself, automatically lead to a reduction in a child support obligation. You will need to take action in order to have your child support obligation modified. It will not be reduced just because you had another child. If your situation merits it, you will need to take concerted steps to have your child support agreement modified to reflect your current circumstances.
It is interesting to note that, previously, Utah prescribed to the common law approach when it came to additional children impacting an existing child support order. Pursuant to common law, Utah did not recognize having a new child as a valid basis for modifying an existing child support order. This was justified through the reasoning that there was a primary duty to support children from a previous relationship and it was the person’s choice if he or she decided to go on to another relationship and have more kids.
Through the evolution in Utah law, Utah courts presently recognize that, while there is a duty to act in the best interest of the children’s best interest that is referenced in an existing child support order, the needs of the new child should not be ignored. This is why Utah courts now recognize that having a new child can be considered as a substantial change in circumstance that could potentially merit a change in a child support order. This is commonly a factor considered when the custodial parent requests an increase in support from the payor parent who has a new child.
It is also becoming more frequently recognized as a valid point to consider in modification petitions where the parent with the new child is requesting a reduction in an established child support order.
Before you petition for a modification of an existing child support order, you should know that a judge may look at your income and, should this circumstance apply, your new spouse’s income as well. Under the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA), which dictates how courts are to award child support), a judge can consider a modification request due to a new child only in the event that the available resources to support the new child are less than those resources available to support the child or children from a previous relationship. To put it another way, your modification request will only move forward if the combined income of you and your new spouse is either greater than or equal to the combined income of you and your former partner.
How are child support payments calculated in Utah?
Child support payments are calculated differently in every state. Some general factors the courts will look at in calculating payments include:
• The number of children involved
• Each parent’s current income
• Each parent’s earning potential
• The amount of time each child spends living with each parent
There are generally two methods used to calculate child support: An income shares model or an income percentage model.
Utah uses the “income share” method for calculating child support payments, which is designed to ensure that both the custodial and non-custodial parents contribute to their child’s upkeep.
Utah’s child support formula directly accounts for parents who share custody of a child, and support payment amounts are connected to the custody split. Other special situations accounted for under Utah’s child support law include childcare costs, extraordinary medical costs and college costs. These costs may be additions to the basic Utah child support order.
Income Share Method
Under the income share model, the court uses economic tables to estimate the total monthly cost of raising the children. The non-custodial parent pays a percentage of the calculated cost that is based on their proportional share of both parents’ combined income.
Example: The non-custodial parent of one child has an income of $2,000 per month, and the custodial parent has an income of $1,000 per month. The court estimates that the cost of raising one child is $1,000 a month. The non-custodial parent’s income is 66.6% of the parent’s total combined income. Therefore, the non-custodial parent pays $666 per month in child support, or 66.6% of the total child support obligation.
Who pays the child support?
Utah law requires both parents to financially support their child (or children). The amount of support that each parent pays will depend on the parents’ income, custody arrangement, and the number of children involved.
Because there are a variety of factors that impact support, it can be difficult to figure out an exact amount on your own. Parents can use the Utah child support calculator to estimate a support obligation. However, a judge will determine the final child support amount in your case.
The Utah Child Support Guidelines are simply a fee schedule, or formula. Parents can agree to pay more than the amount given by the guidelines, but not less, and a court must approve the amount. Although a court presumes that the number given by the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support, there are circumstances where the result would be unfair to a parent or the child. In those cases, a court will review a set of factors and may adjust the amount of support down or up.
Using the Utah Child Support Guidelines
To use the guidelines, you’ll need to know the adjusted gross income of both parents. A parent’s gross income is income from all sources, including:
• salaries and wages
• income from a trust
• military pay
• alimony received
• social security benefits
• unemployment compensation, and
• gifts and prizes.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out, such as general assistance, housing subsidies, and welfare benefits.
In situations where a parent is purposefully unemployed or underemployed to avoid making support payments, a court can impute a higher income based on the parent’s past and current earnings. Income will not be imputed, however, for a custodial parent who stays home to meet a child’s specific needs, or if the cost of childcare would be the same as the income this parent would make.
You also need to know how much time each parent will spend with the child. There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but the guidelines calculate support differently for parents with “sole physical custody” (the child lives with only one parent), “joint custody” (the child lives part time with each parent), or “split custody” (where the parents divide the kids between them – mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example). If you have additional questions about the impact of custody on support, the Utah Courts website has a section on parent-time and custody.
Once you’ve determined both parents’ adjusted gross incomes and custody, look to the base combined child support obligation table. These are the guidelines for a combined income from $726 through $100,000 a month. If the noncustodial parent has an adjusted gross income of $649 or less, or if the combined income is between $650 and $1,050, then you may need to use the low income table. Keep in mind that a court will have to review this number, to ensure it’s in the child’s best interests, but the minimum amount of support is $30. On the other hand, if the parents’ combined income is greater than $100,000, then a court may increase the amount over the maximum allowed by the base combined child support obligation table.
The guidelines give you a total amount of child support due. After you have that number, you can calculate what each parent’s share of that amount will be. There are additional calculations to be made, often referred to as “add ons,”—one or both of you will have to cover medical expenses, health insurance, and childcare costs too.
If it’s been less than three years since the original order was issued or modified, then you must have a substantial change in circumstances.
How is child support collected and enforced?
Child support payments are usually ordered as part of your divorce settlement. If you and your child’s parent were never married, child support is ordered by your local county court after you have filed a request.
Child support payments are frequently collected by withholding the ordered support amount directly from the obligated parent’s paycheck. In some situations, parents may make payments to one another directly.
If the obligated parent is not paying child support payments, you will have to file a complaint with the court that issued the initial order. The court may then garnish wages, deny passports, withhold tax refunds, set liens on their property, or even suspend or revoke licenses to ensure compliance with the order.
Changing a Child Support Order
Changes to a child support order are not uncommon as life circumstances frequently change for both the parents and the children. Modifications to child support can be negotiated directly between the two parents, but the change still must be documented in a new child support order and signed by the court. If you and your child’s parent can’t agree on a change in child support, then you will have to file a motion with the court.
Reasons to Modify a Child Support Agreement
• Decrease in Income
If one parent loses their job, he or she may be unable to meet child support obligations. Temporary modification of child support payments may be made until that parent can find another job. Other situations for a decrease in income may be because a parent has become disabled or has been incarcerated. Another cause may be that a parent is a Reservist or National Guard member who is newly activated, resulting in a change of income.
• Increase in Income
If one parent experiences a substantial increase in income, the other parent may petition the court for an increase in child support payments. This increase will ensure the child’s standard of living is equivalent to the standard they would have had with the other parent.
• New Expenses for the Child or Change in the Child’s Residence
Children’s needs are changing all the time, especially as they grow. Increasing expenses for schooling or medical work, such as orthodontics, are common reasons for modifications to a child support agreement. Also, as children grow, the amount of time they spend with each parent may change, and this change in living arrangements may necessitate a change in the child support order.
• New Family Responsibilities for the Parent
When a parent becomes responsible for the support of new children, they may be able to petition the court for a reduction in child support payments. In this case, the parent would be ensuring there is enough money to support all of their children. Of course, this can work in reverse depending on the state in which you reside. If a parent remarries, this may increase his or her income, which could lead to an increase in monthly child support payments.
• Cost of Living Adjustment Clauses
There may be a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause in the original child support order issued. This adjustment means that child support payments may increase or decrease each year in accordance with the annual Cost of Living. If there is not, you may request a modification based on the Cost of Living.
Challenging the Amount
Sometimes, the total amount of child support given by the guidelines or the way that number is divided between the parents is unfair. If you think support should be increased or decreased before the court issues the order, then you can ask a court to adjust it. Once you ask, a court will review all relevant factors, but especially the following, to adjust the amount of child support either up or down:
• the parents’ standard of living and situation
• the parents’ relative wealth and income
• the ability of the paying parent to earn
• the ability of the receiving parent to earn
• the ability of an incapacitated adult child to earn, or the child’s benefits
• the needs of both parents and the child
• the parents’ ages, and
• whether either parent supports others.
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