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Spousal and Child Support

Spousal and Child Support Questions

How is alimony, or spousal support or maintenance determined?

All state divorce laws address the issue of whether, and for how long, one spouse shall be required to make support payments to the other spouse after termination of their marriage. In cases involving equitable division of property, one of the usual factors for division of property is whether one spouse will pay support to the other. On the other hand, when determining spousal support, or maintenance, as it is known in some states, one of the factors to be considered is the division of property.

In community property states, the division of property between the parties is not necessarily a factor to be considered in the determination of support, but their prior standard of living and the relative economic status of the two parties are relevant factors. In the so-called equitable distribution property states, other factors to be considered are much the same as the factors to be considered by the court in the division of property, such as:

  • Length of the marriage
  • The extent to which the supported spouse contributed to the attainment of an education or professional license by the other spouse
  • The presence of young children in the home
  • Employment opportunities available to the spouse requesting support

Ironically enough, though spousal support may be a highly contentious issue in divorce, many couples are mutually able to make fair and reasonable support agreements as well. And, generally, at the end of a short-term marriage, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, neither party is likely to end up with an award of spousal support.

How is child support determined?

Prior to the institution of child support guidelines, child support determinations were entirely within the judge’s purview, based on only two factors. The first factor was the level of ability for the obligated parent to pay. The second related to the needs of the child. This situation has changed dramatically over the years, with changes gaining momentum from federal legislation that required more uniformity among the states in exchange for federal child support funding.

Now all states have adopted child support guidelines that must be applied in divorce and custody cases in which minor children are involved. States have, for the most part, made a determination that every child has the right to the support of both parents while at the same time, parents’ rights and needs are to be taken into consideration as well. Based on these principles, states have adopted formulas for determining what the level of child support should be. Generally, these guidelines are based on a percentage of the payor parent’s gross income. Of late, more states are taking into account the income and standard of living of both parents, and the actual percentage of time that the children spend with each parent. Most states also provide that the formulas are presumed to result in a correct amount; however, states have also adopted procedures for deviating from the guidelines.

Because of child support guidelines, a determination of child support in a particular case generally requires only entering the parties’ incomes and the percentage of time spent with the children into the formula to arrive at a solution. In other words, current state of the law does not provide much room for disputes about who should pay what amount of child support. Admittedly, the amount of time that children spend with each parent often does come into consideration, and some parties find themselves in the middle of a custody or visitation battle that may actually be a child support battle.

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