Calculating child support in New York is very circumstantial and requires a detailed process based on New York guidelines that can be modified to fit your specific needs.
Child Support in New York
In New York, divorcing parents are obligated to continue to support their children until the children reach age 21. If you are considering a divorce or separation and have children under the age of 21, you are likely aware that you or your spouse will have to pay child support but probably have a lot more questions. How much is child support? What does child support include? Do I still have to pay child support if we have equal custody? In this article, we will answer these questions and give you a basic overview of how child support works in New York.
What is Child Support?
In New York, there are two categories of child support – basic child support and add-ons. Basic child support consists of the costs the children’s basic living expenses such as food, clothing, and shelter. Practically speaking, basic child support is for covering expenses such as mortgage payments, real estate taxes, utilities, and groceries. Add-ons are additional expenses the children may require such as health insurance, unreimbursed medical expenses, childcare if the custodial parent is working, and certain educational expenses if deemed appropriate by the court. In some cases, add-ons can also include other kinds of expenses like extracurricular activities, camp or therapy.
How Does the Law Calculate Child Support?
New York law provides a set of guidelines for calculating child support. Basic child support is calculated as a percentage of the parents’ combined incomes based on the number of children in the household. This is paid from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. The custodial parent is generally the parent that cares for the children more than 50% of the time. If the parents share custody of the children on an equal 50/50 basis, the higher earning parent is the non-custodial parent for child support purposes and pays child support to the lower earning parent. Add-ons are divided between the parents in proportion to their pro-rated percentage share of their combined incomes. This can either be paid directly from one parent to the other or to a third-party such as a doctor or childcare provider.
The law provides a formula for calculating basic child support based on the parents’ combined incomes up to $148,000. For combined parental incomes above the $148,000 cap, the courts have discretion in applying the child support guidelines, which they often do.
The first step in calculating child support is determining the parents’ combined gross income. Gross income is defined in the same way for both alimony and child support calculations and can be complicated. In the simplest cases, your income is what you report on your most recent federal tax return (such as on your W-2 and 1099 forms) and includes income from employment, business income and self-employment (before taxes and contributions to retirement or other tax-deferred accounts). However, not every case is this simple and tax returns do not necessarily provide the most accurate financial picture of a family’s actual available income. Courts may also “impute” or include the income for one or both parents based on a certain number of variables. An example would be if one of the parents receives non-taxable benefits through his or her employment, or receives financial assistance from another family member. Determining what an income really is for child support purposes is often a hotly litigated issue in court but we will get back to that issue later in the article when we discuss how mediation can help you come to a fair and mutually beneficial agreement on child support.
Once you determine each parent’s income, you deduct FICA (social security and Medicare taxes) and some local taxes (for example, in New York City or Yonkers) in order to arrive at a net income for child support calculation purposes. If one of the parents is paying alimony (maintenance) to the other parent, the amount of maintenance will be deducted from the payor parent’s income and added to the receiving parent’s income.
Next, the parents’ incomes are added together and a percentage is applied based on the number of children in the family. For one child, you take 17% of the parents’ combined income, for two children you take 25%, for three children you take 29%, for four children you take 31% and for five children you take no less than 35% of the parents’ combined income and this percentage amount represents the basic child support obligation.
Then we calculate each parent’s proportional share of the basic child support obligation by dividing each parent’s individual income by the total combined parental income to arrive at a percentage. That percentage is then applied to the total basic child support obligation to determine each parent’s pro-rata percentage share. The non-custodial parent then pays his or her pro-rated amount of the total basic child support obligation to the custodial parent.
So, let’s calculate child support for two children using the same couple from our maintenance example where Husband earns $100,000 net per year and the Wife earns $50,000 net per year. In that example, to make things simple, we are assuming that we already deducted FICA and local taxes but now have to account for maintenance.
So, for child support calculations, Husband’s income would be $92,500 ($100,000 – $7,500 per year in maintenance) and Wife’s income would be $57,500 ($50,000 + $7,500 per year in maintenance). Since there are two children we would then take 25% of the total combined parental income of $150,000, which is $37,500. Next, we determine each parent’s pro-rata share by dividing each of their individual incomes by their combined income. Wife’s pro-rata share would be 38% ($57,500/$150,000) and Husband’s pro-rata share would be 62%. Let’s assume that Husband is the non-custodial parent. Husband would pay Wife $23,250 (62% of $37,500) per year in basic child support or $1,938 per month.
With respect to add-on expenses, we would divide those according to the same pro-rata share. For example, if the children’s health insurance premiums cost $2,500 per year, Husband would be responsible for 62% of this amount or $1,550.
While we are discussing add-ons, at SnapDivorce we are often asked by couples exactly what expenses are included in “add-ons”? Do add-ons include summer camp? Tutoring? Horseback riding lessons? The answer is, it depends. At the minimum end of the spectrum, the law provides for certain mandatory add-ons, which are: health insurance premiums, unreimbursed medical expenses, and childcare to allow the custodial parent to work. Often families with children have significant additional expenses for extracurricular activities, summer camp and educational expenses among others. Under the law, neither party is obligated to contribute to these expenses but parties who chose to settle child support out of court often provide for such expenses in an agreement, which is one of the many benefits to agreeing to child support in an out-of-court agreement.
Speaking of agreements, this brings us to one of the key points of this article. In mediation, most couples do not follow the child support guidelines calculations and instead reach their own agreements based on their individual financial needs and circumstances. We are often asked by couples in mediation whether it is mandatory to follow the child support guidelines. The short answer is no – with one caveat. When parties reach their own child support agreement out of court, the language of the agreement itself must comply with specific requirements including a breakdown of the calculations of the presumptive child support guidelines in order to be enforceable by a court in the future. That is why it is important for couples to understand how the guidelines work and to have an experienced family law attorney draft your child support agreement.
What are the Benefits of Mediating Child Support?
Mediation gives couples the freedom to come up with their own child support agreements that work best for their unique family situations. In litigation, parents often spend unnecessary time and money litigating issues involving child support when they could instead be maintaining these resources for their children’s current and future needs. As mediators, we know that while the legal guidelines are often a good starting point, realistically speaking, for many families, taking such a formulaic approach does not always result in an amount of child support that is appropriate or feasible. This is true for a variety of reasons including having a child with special needs or certain tax implications. So, while the parent’s incomes for child support purposes may come out one way, in reality, their actual take-home income is far more or far less and parents want to account for this discrepancy. By the same token, especially with parents who are self-employed or have their own businesses, actual income available for support may be tricky to figure out.
In mediation, we explain the guidelines to parents and let them make their own decisions as to whether or not to apply them to their cases. Often parents choose to take a different approach and focus less on what the calculations say and look more at the parents’ actual take-home income and budgets. We look at how much the custodial parent actually needs to cover his or her own basic monthly obligations (some of these expenses would technically be a part of basic child support such as food and housing costs) and then determine how to apportion the children’s expenses. This approach is based less on income and more on the family’s reasonable needs and values.
In mediation, we can be creative in ways that you cannot be in litigation. In court, judges will most often take a far more rigid approach and apply the child support guidelines without regard to the parties’ individual circumstances. In mediation, when both parents are committed to working together for the best interests of the children, they combine their mental and financial resources and to come up with a practical solution rather than waste time and money on arguing and attorney’s fees. For example, for some families, it might make sense for the custodial parent to take less support in exchange for a greater share of the marital assets, especially if those assets include the marital residence that may have minimal carrying costs or no mortgage. For other families, it might make more sense for one of the parties to pay for a larger share of the children’s day-to-day expenses, while the other party agrees to pay for the higher cost items such as camp, private school or the children’s college tuition and costs.
In mediation, we will review your needs and priorities and go through options with you. We will then encourage meaningful and productive discussion and help you brainstorm to come up with creative solutions that work based on your individual family circumstances.