All parents know that raising a child can be expensive, but when divorce or separation divides a household, you get a complete and often startling picture of the significant costs of child-rearing. To ensure that children under 21 are not thrust into a lower standard of living by their parents’ break-up, New York law requires the noncustodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent.

Calculating child support

The Child Support Standards Act, or CSSA, governs how child support is calculated and paid in New York state. Parents with one child are required to allocate 17% of their income towards supporting them. The percentage goes up with each additional child, with five or more consuming at least 35% of their parents’ income in support payments.

The court arrives at a support amount by adding each parent’s net income together. If they make less than $143,000 as a couple, a percentage is applied. The current percentage amounts are:

  • One child- 17%
  • Two children- 25%
  • Three children- 29%
  • Four children- 31%
  • Five children- 35%

How much each parent pays is based on their contribution to the net household income. For example, if you make $50,000 after taxes and your ex makes $60,000 after taxes, your combined income is $110,000, 25% of which is required to support your two children. This comes to $27,500 per year.

Since you contribute to 45% of the household income ($50,000 is 45% of $110,000), you are responsible for the same percentage of the required child support amount, which comes out to $12,375 a year or $1,031.24 a month. Your ex will pay 55%, since that is their contribution to the household income, and be responsible for $15,125 or $1,260.41 per month.

This ratio is subject to change if you or your ex loses a job, changes jobs, or starts to earn more or less. Courts frown on parents who intentionally lower their income or stay unemployed to avoid paying child support, so if any job loss or decreased income must be through no fault of your own. Otherwise a certain amount of support will be imputed to you based on what the court believes you are capable of earning.

Keep in mind that in joint custody situations, New York courts will use the same calculations, treating the parent who has the children for the least amount of time as the ‘noncustodial parent’.

Higher income households

If you and your spouse make more than $143,000 as a couple, more child support may be ordered at the court’s discretion. The judge will look at factors like the following to help them arrive at a decision.

  • Each parent’s financial resources
  • The child’s standard of living when the parents were together
  • Whether the child has special needs in terms of healthcare or education

The court will also review how much the non-custodial parent will be paying for daycare, healthcare, college tuition, and other add-on expenses. With so many variables involved, calculating child support for higher-income parents tends to be done on a case by case basis.

Taxation matters

If you are paying child support, you cannot deduct these payments on your personal income taxes, and if you are receiving it, the money does not have to be reported as income to the IRS. So which of you should claim the children on next year’s taxes? It’s a matter that should be discussed, agreed upon, and entered into the divorce decree.

Child support modifications

As of 2010, parents who are seeking modification of a child support order must prove one of the following circumstances:

  • Their income must have gone up or been reduced by at least 15% since the order was issued or last modified OR
  • At least three years have passed since the order was signed or last changed

If you are asking for a modification because you lose your job, you will be required to prove that the job loss was through no fault of your own and that you have been looking for work that pays a similar or higher salary.

Child support arrears

The law presumes that when a parent fails to pay child support, they are intentionally violating a court order. The onus is then on you to prove that a substantial change in your circumstances has left you unable to make the payments and the order needs to be modified.

Any arrears that accumulated prior to the modification request cannot be lowered or discharged. If you have gone into arrears of $3,000 or more, your bank account can be frozen and its contents taken to help pay off the amount owing. Your tax refunds can also be seized and you could lose your driver’s license or passport, so as soon as you know that you’re going to have trouble making payments, let your attorney know immediately.

Child support in New York is easily one of the most complicated post-divorce arrangements. If you are planning on filing for divorce and have questions about your rights and responsibilities when it comes to child support, talk to a New York support attorney who can help ensure that your financial contribution to your children’s well-being is both sufficient and fair.

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