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.
Challenging the Amount of Child Support
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.
Collecting Child Support and Enforcement
With a child support order in place, collecting your monthly payment from the other parent may be easy. Parents can pay support in whatever form is most convenient, including cash, check, bank transfer, direct deposit, money order, or by using payment apps, such as Venmo. If you’re having trouble collecting child support, you can contact Utah’s Office of Recovery Services for help.
Modifying the Amount of Support in Utah
Once a child support order is in place, you can ask the court to modify (change) it at any time, but this will require a different process. 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. Usually, a substantial change is a significant shift in custody or an increase or decrease of 30% in income, but there can be other reasons. The threshold is lower if an order has been in place for three years or more.
Child Support Enforcement
Utah provides for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent paying child support, much like income tax withholding. Both parents find payroll withholding of child support easier and very dependable because the appropriate state agency receives and disburses payment to the custodial parent. No more than half of the income of a noncustodial parent may be attached if he or she is paying more than 50 percent of the support for dependents of a second marriage. When the payor parent is in arrears, the approved number jumps to 55 percent, then 60 percent for a payor supporting dependents under the current order, and 65 percent for a delinquent paying only under the current order. The Utah Department of Human Services places liens on the property of a late or non-paying parent. The department can also place levies on bank accounts, intercept state and federal income tax return checks, and report late payments to credit bureaus.
Generally, child support in Utah ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. A child will also automatically be ineligible for child support if that child marries, is removed from disability status by a court order, or the child dies.
Factors for deviating from the guidelines include:
• the standard of living and the situation of the parties;
• the relative wealth and income of the parents;
• the earning power of each parent;
• the needs of the parents and the child;
• the ages of all involved;
• and any responsibility of either parent to support others.
Family law courts in Utah determine how much child support a non-custodial parent (a parent who doesn’t live with their minor child) is required to pay by using the state’s child support guidelines. These guidelines take into consideration both parents’ gross incomes and the number of children that they have together. The court will follow the child support guidelines unless there is substantial evidence to rebut the guidelines. In order to determine whether or not to deviate from the guidelines the court will consider:
• The standard of living of the parents
• The relative wealth and income of the parents
• The ability of the non-custodial parent to earn
• The ability of the custodial parent to earn
• The ability of an incapacitated adult child to earn, or other benefits received by an adult child
• The needs of the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent, and the child
• The ages of the parties, and
• The responsibilities of the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent for the support of others.
Gross income includes perspective income from any source. For example: salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, rents, gifts, prizes, dividends, severance pay, interest, alimony from a previous marriage, Social Security benefits, etc. Gross income doesn’t include means-tested welfare benefits that a parent receives. Adjusted gross income is calculated by subtracting alimony previously ordered and paid and child support previously ordered from the parent’s gross income. Each parent’s child support obligation is established in proportion to their adjusted gross incomes by following these steps:
• Step 1: Combine the adjusted gross incomes of the parents
• Step 2: Look up the base combined child support obligation using this chart
• Step 3: Take the appropriate figure from the chart and multiply it by each parent’s percentage of the combined adjusted gross income
The court won’t follow the child support guidelines above if:
• The parents have joint physical custody or split custody (see section 78B-12-102), or
• The non-custodial parent’s adjusted gross income is $1,050 or less per month
In Utah, if a parent is unemployed or underemployed the court may impute an income on the parent in order to perform the child support calculations in the chart above. Imputed income is based on employment potential and probable earnings. This figure is calculated from employment opportunities, work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for people of similar backgrounds in the community. If a parent doesn’t have recent work history, or if their occupation is unknown, then the court can impute income on the parent at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek. However, income can’t be imputed if any of the following conditions exist (and aren’t temporary in nature):
• The reasonable costs of child care for the parents’ minor children equals the amount of income that the custodial parent can earn
• A parent is physically or mentally unable to earn the minimum wage, or
• The unusual emotional or physical needs of a child requires the custodial parent to stay home and care for them
In income shares states, the court bases the child support payment on the income of both parents and the number of children. For example, if a non-custodial parent has a net income of $2,500 a month and the custodial parent has an income of $2,000 a month, the parents’ total monthly income is $4,500, using an economic table that shows the expected cost of raising children, the court will determine that the total monthly child support obligation is $1,125 for one child. The non-custodial parent’s income is approximately 55.6 percent of the parents’ total income and the custodial parent’s income is 44.4 percent. Therefore, the non-custodial parent would pay $625.50 a month in support, or 55.6 percent of the total obligation of the parents.
Percentage of Income Model
In percentage of income states, the court bases the child support payment on a specific percentage of the non-custodial parent’s gross or net income and the number of children the parent supports. The percentage of income can be flat or varying. In flat states, the percentage of income does not change even if the non-custodial parent’s income fluctuates. In varying states, the percentage of income changes when the non-custodial parent’s income fluctuates. For example, a non-custodial parent has a net income of $2,500 a month and one child to support. Only the non-custodial parent’s income is considered. The flat percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income that must be dedicated to child support is 25% percent for one child. The non-custodial parent will pay $625 a month.
In Melson formula states, the court bases the child support payment on a defined set of factors, which include the needs of the child and standard of living adjustment (SOLA) for the child. The Melson formula is a variation on the income shares model. It allows more money for child support as one or both parents increase their income. The calculations for child support payments in Melson formula states are more complex than either the income shares or percentage of income model..
The Court Discretion
A court has the power to deviate from the state’s standard model and base child support payments on other factors, including the needs of the child, the child’s standard of living before the parents’ separation or divorce, the ability of the non-custodial parent to pay, the needs and income of the custodial parent, and the amount of time that the child spends with the paying parent. Courts may also consider whether a paying parent pays child support for two or more families under two or more child support orders, separation or divorce agreements between parents, and the child’s own resources, such as a trust or inheritance.
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