"Child Support" has become the bad word for fathers (mostly), and often times, a glorious payback for Moms. With a large majority of my clientele Fathers, and about 50% of my law practice focused on family law, the issue of child support is met with contempt, disdain, and complete anger at the obscurity of the final support figures. While there are some Moms who pay support, this information is mainly geared towards the fathers who have given up on the system and the complex challenges it often leaves behind.
Breathe. Lose the "Baby Momma Drama". And let's talk.
The same contempt that showers most fathers often leads them to abandon the system, and let the system stick it to them in whatever form it sees fit. Too many fathers never contest the figures, never question the accuracy of the formula, and never think to MODIFY that dollar amount. Here are some quick tips to ensure that Child Support does not leave a sour taste in the mouth of some very wonderful, involved, and loving Dads. 1. ALWAYS answer court dates. Not showing up for court does not make the matter go away. It does not mean the Friend of the Court will be helpless and will be blind in determining your income or what your contribution will be in the form of child support. Friend of the Court in the various counties have a multitude of resources to determine where you live, where you work, your income, and other information that is necessary to initiate a child support action. Your Social Security Number is like an automatic GPS device. It will find you! In fact, your failure to show gives Mom an opportunity to make some very high guesstimations about your income, and often times, Friend of the Court will take this information as true. So protect yourself. Be present. Be heard. 2. Child Support Correlates with Parenting Time. While I don't suggest using it as a tool for the slick, parenting time does impact child support. In the State of Michigan, normal parenting days are insignificant...its OVERNIGHTS that count. The standard number of overnights is 75 for the non-custodial parent but this number can vary. It's important to ensure that if you are splitting the child or children nearly 50%, that the child support formula reflects an accurate number of overnights. Don't forget to consider several summer weeks, school breaks, and alternating holidays. Additionally, consider requesting a week day each week to not only boost your parenting time, but also makes for a very involved parent when it comes to a child's weekly activities and education. 3. The Child Support Formula is Just That...a Formula. There are a multitude of variables that go into the final child support figure. The formula, at least in the State of Michigan, takes several things into consideration, including, but not limited to, tax filings. other dependents, any payroll deductions, union dues, who is paying health insurance premiums and in what amounts, overnights, child care, and other factors that can reduce your gross income. Be attentive to these factors, know how much you expend in these areas, and be sure that they are included in the formula. 4. Public Assistance is Not the Default. The economy has over populated the need for government assistance and with no checks and balances, parents are applying for help in the form of food stamps, Medicaid or cash assistance. THIS IS NOT FREE MONEY!! The government will be making their rounds and you will surely be paying this money back. KNOW if the other parent is receiving government assistance. If one parent is receiving government assistance for the children and child support, make sure you are not going to be held liable for the supplement they are receiving. Where health care is available through the employer of the Payer of support, make sure there is no double-dipping on the part of the parent recipient. 5. Request a Modification When There is a Change of Circumstance. Be proactive when it comes to ensuring that the child support payment is an accurate reflection of your income. If there has been a change in jobs, change in pay rate, layoff, disability that prevents working, or any change of circumstance that constitutes a modification to the child support being paid, FILE THE PROPER PAPER WORK. If you know about the sound we often mock of the Charlie Brown adults, that is the sound you are making to a judge when you come in and claim after non-payment, that you could not afford to pay. File for a modification. 6. Arrearages Are Dangerous. A child support arrearage can cause unbelievable distress. An arrearage is a past due amount of child support that can date back months, or several years. It is not unheard of to have outstanding arrearages upward of $100,000 for individuals with multiple children who never had any form of solid employment that Friend of the Court could capture. It often stems from incarceration, illegal occupations, jobs that pay under the table, or even from a child where paternity is in dispute or never established. Outstanding arrearages can result in a felony on your record when the amount reaches a threshold, driver license suspension, occupational license suspension, garnishments, and other penalties that can make earning even more difficult. Work to get on a payment plan for arrearages. Each County and State is different so know what programs and options are available. Also, be attentive to the effective dates of child support orders. A quick note to remember is that in the State of Michigan, a child support order can go back all the way to the date of the original motion filing or complaint filing--making an arrearage almost unavoidable. This abridged version of Child Support is not meant to be comprehensive, but should give you a few tips to remember if you are the recipient or Payer of child support. My experience has taught me that the system will set you up to fail if you are not inclined to combat it with a good understanding of the law, a good understanding of your rights, and an even better understanding of the what role you can play in determining that final support figure. Friend of the Court is not error proof. They often make mistakes but rarely are they called out about them. Your children have a right to support, and it can't be bargained away, but accuracy is in the best interest of all parties.
Your Family Law Attorney,
Tanisha M. Davis, Esq.