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Income Disparity and Child Support

When child-related issues arise in a divorce, paternity, or custody case, family courts in Connecticut will certainly want to address the matter of child support. The law largely standardizes the guidelines and formula for child support to try to be fair and consistent, and the formula takes into account many factors, including:

  • The income of both parents
  • Which parent is considered to be the “custodial parent”
  • Special needs of the child
  • Whether one parent has a particularly high net worth

While there are standard calculations for child support, the calculations involve many considerations and are not simple to complete. It is important to have the assistance of an experienced child support attorney who understands the formula and how to apply it to your situation.

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What if Two Parents Have Different Income Levels?

The first step of the formula is to combine the net weekly income of both parents and determine the amount they should dedicate to child support, which is a percentage of income based on the number of children. For example, according to the currently published Connecticut support schedule, the following percentages may apply for different income levels:

  • Parents have a combined income of $1000 per week:
    • One child = 22.89 percent = $229
    • Two children = 32.18 percent = $322
    • Three children = 38.52 percent = $385
  • Parents have a combined income of $2500 per week:
    • One child = 15.10 percent = $377
    • Two children = 22.43 percent = $561
    • Three children = 26.39 percent = $660
  • Parents have a combined income of $4000 per week:
    • One child = 12.04 percent = $482
    • Two children = 17.71 percent = $708
    • Three children = 20.61 percent = $824

There are many sets of parents who have significantly different earning abilities at the time of a child support determination. The child support system does take this into account. For example, of the $2500 per month, one parent may earn $2000 of that and the other $500. It does not make sense to expect each parent to contribute equally to reach the $377 per month they need to support one child.

If parents split custody and there is an income disparity, the court will likely determine how much each parent should owe separately. According to the schedule, a parent making $2000 net income per week should pay $319 for one child and a parent making $500 should pay $126. Generally speaking, the court will subtract the lesser amount from the higher amount to determine the support paid to the lesser earning parent. The formula can be significantly more complex than this example, as many other factors may come into play. To get an accurate idea of child support amounts in your situation involving an income disparity, consult with our family law attorneys directly.

Deviating From the Formula for a High-Income Parent

As you can see from the above numbers, as the income goes up, the percentage of income dedicated to the children goes down. This can become unfair if one parent has substantial wealth and the other does not. Currently, the support schedules only set out presumptive child support amounts up to $4000 weekly. However, many parents may earn more than that.

The law states that when a parent exceeds $4000 per week, they should use the presumptive percentages set for $4000, using their own income. For instance, if one parent earns $10,000 per week and the other parent is currently not working, the presumptive child support would be as follows:

  • One child = 12.04 percent = $1,204
  • Two children = 17.71 percent = $1,771
  • Three children = 20.61 percent = $2,061

If a parent earns $30,000 per week, they would only have to contribute $3,612 to their child under the presumptive schedule. When the parents were married, the child likely enjoyed a luxurious life, and the custodial non-working parent will have a difficult time providing that type of life on $3,612 (versus the $26,500 the other parents keeps). In this situation, the parent receiving support might request that the court deviates from the guidelines.

The law allows the court to examine various criteria, including extreme income disparities, the substantial wealth of one parent, and the lifestyle to which the child is accustomed, to determine whether the presumptive amount from the formula is fair and appropriate. If not, the court can order a higher amount of support than the law traditionally dictates.

Imputing Income to a Parent

Another possible concern is that a parent is maintaining an income disparity to avoid paying child support or to receive more support than they otherwise should. A parent may purposely remain underemployed or unemployed while the child support determination takes place. Courts recognize that such purposeful action should not deprive a child of the support they need nor cause a working parent to overpay.

Courts can impute income to a parent who could be earning more though chooses not to. Consider the following:

  • A parent worked as an IT manager making $80,000 per year
  • During the divorce, the parent left the company and took a job at a sandwich shop, making the state minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, which is about $21,000 per year
  • The parent did not try to look for another job in IT, even though they have the skills and experience to easily get another position similar to their old job
  • The court may decide to use the former income (or an amount much higher than $21,000) to determine child support payments instead of the current income

Contact a Stamford, Connecticut, Child Support Lawyer to Discuss Your Options

Child support is always complex, and it can be more so if there is an income disparity between the parents. The Law Offices of Piazza, Simmons & Grant, L.L.C., helps clients with all aspects of child support, including initial orders and future modifications. Whether you will need to pay or receive support, we can stand up for your rights. Call (203) 348-2465 or contact us online for more information about our family law services.

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