Joint custody child support is available when spouses divorce but still share the responsibility of the daily care of their children. Issues regarding children – particularly custody and support – can be contentious during a divorce. Working out these issues amicably serves the kids best since their interests are prioritized.
This article will highlight the factors for granting joint custody and how child support is determined when custody is shared.
Types of Custody Arrangements
During a divorce, a decision has to be made regarding the physical and legal custody of children in the marriage. Physical custody refers to living with a child in the same house.
Legal custody refers to the right and obligation of a parent to make decisions about a child’s life.
Before terminating their marriage, spouses have to make a decision on physical and legal custody. In this article, “joint custody” will refer to joint physical and joint legal custody.
As with most family law issues and cases, courts will allow spouses to create an agreement on issues regarding child custody and support before intervening. If spouses can put their differences aside and work towards creating a fair and reasonable custody arrangement, the judge will likely sign the agreement into a court order. Reaching an agreement on custody and support issues is the best way for parents to ensure that they control what happens after divorce.
If you’ve engaged your soon-to-be ex-spouse in child custody mediation but still can’t agree on how to allocate child custody and support, the court will make the decision. In most states, a judge will consider various factors before making the final decision on child custody and support.
The judge then enters a child custody and support order, which is binding on and enforceable by both spouses.
Split Custody and Child Support Obligation
Split custody refers to when parents with more than one child are granted the sole physical custody of at least one of the children. While this form of custody is rare, split custody child support is still paid if one parent owes the other child support. Courts in most states avoid granting split custody as it is best to keep siblings together for support and stability.
US Child Support Standards Act Statute
The Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) was enacted in 2008 and governed child support obligations. The Act provides the criteria for determining support obligations. However, this Act doesn’t specify the amount each parent owes in child support or how matters of child support with joint custody should be dealt with.
Courts have wide discretion in determining the obligation of each parent in child support, based on the applicable state laws. Child support rules vary from state to state and are dependent on various factors, including the income of each parent, local laws, the children’s specific needs, and the number of overnights spent in either home.
Essentially, the CSSA provides that a court directs a spouse who doesn’t have daily childcare responsibilities to bear a portion of the child support obligation. The amount owed is based on various factors, including income, overnights spent in a parent’s home, and the number of other children needing support.
Each state applies a specific formula to determine child support obligations. However, the most significant consideration is the time spent with each parent.
Most states use the Income Shares Model to apportion child support. This model takes into account the combined monthly income of spouses and the number of children in the marriage to determine the amount of child support to be paid.
Once the court determines the child support obligation, it looks at the monthly income of each spouse to divide the support obligation between them. This model also takes into account the allocation of physical custody for each spouse when apportioning child support obligation.
The Percentage of Income Model may also be applied, in which child support is calculated using a flat percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income. In some states, courts may use a combination of methods to determine child support amounts owed.
Who Pays Child Support in Joint Custody?
Whenever spouses split the physical custody of their child equally, courts in most states usually split the child support obligation in half. However, the monthly incomes are also considered in determining the child support obligation of each parent.
Let’s consider this example:
A court determines that a parent is to pay child support amounting to $400 per month after considering the incomes of both parents and other relevant factors. If that spouse has 50 percent of the child’s physical custody, then the amount of child support with shared custody would significantly drop to $200 a month.
In some cases, the determination of joint custody child support might be different. After the court acknowledges the total child support obligation, the higher-earning parent will be required to pay the greater share of the child support.
Such a parent is often deemed the “non-custodial parent” and is ordered to pay the allotted share of child support to the “custodial parent.” However, the court may have to go back to the drawing board if the formula yields a result that is considered unfair to one parent.
In such cases, the court can issue a new child support order deemed fair to both parents. Individual courts also reserve the power to modify a child support order depending on the specific conditions of a divorce case.
Joint Custody Agreements
Some spouses create an oral or written agreement regarding child support. Such agreements can allow them to avoid child support obligations when they aren’t spending time with the child.
A good example is when a child spends the holidays with the non-custodial parent. Some of these written agreements also specify when child support is to be paid and when a spouse doesn’t need to pay.
Parents with an amicable relationship are able to achieve more flexible arrangements. Attorneys may also come in handy in negotiating suitable agreements that will cater to the specific circumstances of spouses and still serve the best interests of the children.
Even with such agreements, some states don’t allow the termination of child support in many situations. This includes when children are in custody or visiting the parent obliged to pay child support. This is because a child will still need support for ongoing needs, such as housing, doctor’s visitations, and extracurricular activities.
Such needs will have to be catered to, regardless of the parent that is caring for the child.
Preventing 50/50 Custody Child Support
Where parents are granted joint custody, the court can modify the custody order at any time. One of the parents has to demonstrate a change in circumstances for this to happen. Basically, a parent might cite the reasons that could have prevented the other parent from gaining joint custody in the first place.
In most states, courts favor joint child custody since it is in the best interests of a child to have a connection with both parents. However, this does not prevent a court from granting sole custody to a parent if that is what’s best for the child.
For instance, a parent with a history of neglect or maltreatment might be denied shared child custody as this would endanger a child. Moreover, courts may deny shared child custody if one parent has a history of alcohol or substance abuse or mental health issues. Essentially, such conditions would prevent them from giving their children the best care.
Even if one parent is granted sole custody of the child, the court will strive to include the other parent in the child’s life. This is particularly achieved by allowing the non-custodial parent visitation rights or facilitating mediation and therapy for those with addiction and mental health issues. However, most psychological and legal experts advocate for joint custody since it has better results among children of divorced parents.
Some of the reasons why a parent might not be granted shared child custody include:
- Incarceration: if one parent is serving a term in prison, they can’t be granted joint custody simply because they are not present to take care of the child. In such cases, it is in the best interest of the child to award sole custody to the other parent.
- Relocation: if a parent is looking to relocate to another state or country, a judge will almost always grant custody to the other parent.
Child custody and support are among the most contentious elements of divorce. When parents who have children together end their marriage, they are required to make child support payments. Even when joint custody is granted, these payments are necessary for the easier adjustment, continuity, and financial stability of the children.
Here are the main things regarding joint custody child support that parents should keep in mind:
- Child custody payments must be made even with joint custody
- States use different rules to determine how much each parent owes in child support, and it is, therefore, advisable to understand your local laws
- Where equal custody and child support are granted, a child will likely spend the same number of overnights with each parent
- A parent can request a modification of the joint custody child support order if there has been a significant change in the life of the parents or child
Whenever a judge grants joint custody, the obligation to pay child support must be met by the parents. Depending on the state, a judge will consider various factors when determining the child support obligation for each parent.
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