Joint Custody Child Support

How the court determines child support for joint custody arrangements

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Joint custody refers to the shared physical and/or legal custody of a child after the parents separate or divorce. In such cases, parents share in the everyday responsibilities of raising the child, including financial obligations. As a result, many parents wonder about how joint custody arrangements will impact the child support amount. While legal custody determinations don't usually play a role in child support, physical custody agreements can.

The Child Support Standards Act Statute

Child support obligations are governed by the federal Child Support Standards Act (CSSA.) However, CSSA does not spell out how issues of joint custody child support should be handled. Instead, individual courts determine child support obligations, usually based on state law.

The CSSA requires a court to direct a parent who does not have daily responsibilities for a child to pay a share of child support based on certain factors, such as income, the number of other children, etc. Each state follows a different formula to determine support obligations, and the amount of time a child spends with each parent can be considered.

If parents have a child equally—50% of the time, each—a court may not order either parent to pay child support.

However, some states may take the child support obligation (determined by the applicable child support formula) and divide the obligation in half, thus arriving at an appropriate amount. For example, say a support payment for a particular parent was determined to be $300 per month, based on both parents' incomes and other financial factors. If that parent had 50% physical custody of their child, their payment would drop to $150 a month. They would still owe some child support, even though they split physical custody evenly.

In some states, after the total support obligation is acknowledged, the parent who has the greater income or share of child support obligation may be considered the "non-custodial parent," and therefore will have to pay that share to the other parent, unless the formula will yield a result that is unfair. If so, in its discretion, the court can order a new child support amount which would be fair to both parents.

Factors Considered in Determining or Altering Joint Custody Child Support

  • The ability of each parent to maintain separate housing for the child
  • Extraordinary financial expenses that arise due to the joint custody arrangement (i.e. additional child care expenses, clothing expenses, or travel expenses)

Joint Custody Child Support Agreements Between Parents

Some parents have an oral agreement which allows them to avoid paying child support when the child is not in their care (say, if a child spends a summer with a non-custodial parent). Additionally, some written agreements will specifically address when support is paid.

However, many states do not allow cessation of child support when children are visiting or in the custody of the parent who is paying the child support. That might be the case because a child's ongoing needs—such as extracurricular activities, doctor's payments, and housing—will still need to be paid even when the child is not with that parent.

There are several reasons why a parent should continue to provide child support in joint custody arrangements. Most importantly, child support payments generally provide an easier adjustment for children; the payments also have a positive effect on a child's well-being, performance in school, and overall social adjustment.

Parents should try to come to an agreement regarding child support in joint custody arrangements (often with the help of attorneys or mediators). Parents can develop a parenting plan to track expenses and maintain open communication if/when more money is a necessity. If parents are unable to effectively communicate, the court can make a determination as to appropriate child support payments in joint custody arrangements. If there is a change in circumstances (say, a job loss or medical crisis), the person paying child support can ask for a modification.

Edited by Jennifer Wolf.

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