FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR MINOR CHILDREN

Regardless of the custody and parent-time arrangement, each parent is obligated to help financially support his or her minor children.  By law, the court is required to make orders for support of children in a divorce, paternity or separation case.  The court’s child support order includes several specific provisions.

BASIC MONTHLY SUPPORT PAYMENTS

Monthly child support payments are designed to ensure that both parents help provide for their children’s basic needs.  Utah law requires that the court follow specific guidelines in determining the amount of child support payments.

Determination of Parent’s Income

The monthly child support obligation is based primarily on the income of both parent’s.  While often relatively easy to determine, sometimes figuring out a parent’s income, or the amount of income that should be credited to a parent, can be complicated.

First, the court must determine both parents’ “gross income.”  Gross income includes income from any source, including earned and non-earned income sources which may include salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, rents, gifts from anyone, prizes, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, alimony from previous marriages, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment compensation, and income replacement disability insurance benefits.  Gross income specifically does not include government provided cash assistance, housing benefits, and other means-tested welfare benefits received by a parent.

Earned Income

Income from earned income sources is limited to the equivalent of one full-time 40-hour job.  If and only if during the time prior to the court order, the parent normally and consistently worked more than 40 hours at the parent’s job, the court may consider this extra time as a pattern in calculating the parent’s ability to provide child support.

Self-Employment or Business Income

Gross income from self-employment or operation of a business is calculated by subtracting expenses necessary to allow the business to operate at a reasonable level from gross business receipts.  This amount may differ from the amount of business income determined for tax purposes.

Imputed Income

The court may, but is not required to, impute income to a parent where the parent is unemployed, underemployed or, in rare cases, overemployed.  The court may compare a parent’s current income with his or her historical earnings to determine whether a parent is underemployed or overemployed.

If income is imputed to a parent, the income shall be based on employment potential and probable earnings as derived from employment opportunities, work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for persons of similar backgrounds in the community, or the median earnings for persons in the same occupation in the same geographical area as found in the statistics maintained by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If a parent has no recent work history or a parent’s occupation is unknown, income shall be imputed at least at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour work week.  This amount is currently $1,260.00 per month.

The court may not impute income to a parent under the following circumstances:

  1. the reasonable costs of child care for the parents’ minor children approach or equal the amount of income the custodial parent can earn;
  2. a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn minimum wage;
  3. a parent is engaged in career or occupational training to establish basic job skills such as a vocational rehabilitation program (this does not include attending a college or university undergraduate or graduate program); or
  4. unusual emotional or physical needs of a child require the custodial parent’s presence in the home.

After the parent’s “gross income” is determined, the court subtracts any alimony or other child support payments that the parent has been previously ordered to pay and has actually paid (i.e. alimony and/or child support from a prior marriage).  Alimony ordered as part of the pending divorce does not count.  This new amount is called “adjusted gross income,” and this the final amount used to calculate the monthly child support obligation.

Calculation of Child Support Payment

Once the adjusted gross income for each parent is determined, the actual child support payment is calculated using the court’s online child support calculator located at https://orscsc.dhs.utah.gov/orscscapp-hs/orscscweb/action/public/custodyWorksheet/show.  It has fields to enter the adjusted gross income for each parent and the number of minor children.  In a situation where both parents have joint physical custody (at least 111 overnights per year), the calculator allows you to input the exact number of overnights per year for both parents.  The calculator then generates the amount of the child support payment based on the statutory formula set forth in the Utah Child Support Act.

The parents can agree to pay more than the amount generated by the child support calculator, but they cannot agree to pay less than this amount.

Payment and Collection of Child Support

Child support payments are due on the first day of the month and are considered past due on the first day of the following month.  Child support payments are subject to automatic withholding from wages and collection through the State Office of Recovery Services (“ORS”).

MEDICAL EXPENSES FOR CHILDREN

As part of the child support order, the court shall include a provision assigning responsibility for the payment of reasonable and necessary medical expenses for the children.  The court order shall also include a provision requiring the purchase and maintenance of medical insurance for the children if available at a reasonable cost.

Regardless of which parent actually provides the medical insurance, each parent is typically required to share equally any out-of-pocket costs of the premium actually paid by a parent for the children’s portion of the insurance.  In addition, each parent is typically required to equally share all reasonable and necessary uninsured and unreimbursed medical and dental expenses incurred for the minor children, including deductibles and copayments.

Generally, one parent pays for the medical expenses up front and then provides proof of the expense and the payment to the other parent.  The other parent is then required to reimburse the first parent for his or her half of the expenses.

CHILD CARE EXPENSES FOR CHILDREN

The child support order shall require that each parent share equally the reasonable work-related child care expenses of either parent, regardless of the custody arrangement.  The process for reimbursement of child care expenses is the same as for medical expenses.  The parents may agree, or the court may order, that they also share child care costs incurred because of career or occupational training by one or both parents, even if not strictly work-related.

OTHER EXPENSES FOR CHILDREN

The parents may agree, or the court may order, that they share other expenses for their minor children such as school fees, extra-curricular activity costs, clothing, cell phones, etc.

AWARD OF TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR MINOR CHILDREN

Finally, the child support order needs to determine which parent will be awarded the right to claim the minor children as exemptions/deductions on his or her federal and state income taxes each year.  This determination is based on the relative contribution of each parent to the cost of raising the children and the relative tax benefit to each parent.  Parents often agree to alternate or otherwise share claiming these tax benefits.

For more information on other topics related to divorce, please visit our family law page or our frequently asked questions section.