In New York State, the courts are very strict about the manner in which to calculate child support. They utilize the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) formula to determine child support. The court can always decide to vary from the guidelines but, in practicality, most courts apply them unless there are special circumstances at play.  In divorce mediation, however, you have the freedom to go with the CSSA formula or to vary from the guidelines based on your specific situation. This article will discuss, on a simple level, how basic child support is calculated in New York Courts and various ideas and options that mediation can offer. Let’s start with a look at the CSSA guideline formula.

This formula is based on both spouses’ incomes. The guideline formula is quite mechanical and structured. Many litigating couples argue over the true amount of each spouse’s gross income and argue that income should be “imputed” or implied to the other party. Much child support litigation involves argument over just that — what figure should be fairly applied as each party’s income. Sometimes, the parties are spending more in legal fees trying to determine this number than the additional support or decrease in support justifies.  Once the gross incomes are arrived at, the Court subtracts FICA (medicare and social security tax, usually 7.6% and maybe some additional deductions based on the circumstances) from each parties gross income and then multiplies this by 17% for one child, 25% for two children, 29% for three children, etc. And this figure determines the combined parental child support obligation pursuant to the guidelines. Then the guidelines look to each parties proportion of income to the total parental income and the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent his or her share of the total parental child support obligation.  Here is a link to the 2014 CSSA chart that is based on the non-custodial parent’s income to determine the annual amount of support: https://www.childsupport.ny.gov/dcse/pdfs/cssa_2014.pdf.  Let’s take an example and, to keep it simple, we will assume the numbers below are after the FICA reduction or any other reductions allowed by law to reach the income figures used for child support calculations.

Jon and Jen are getting a divorce and have 2 children.  Jen is the custodial parent as the couple has decided that she will have access with the children more than one-half of the nights in a one-year period.  Since she is the custodial parent, she receives child support.  Jen earns $60,000 and Jon earns $40,000 per year.  The total parental income is $100,000.  The total parental basic child support obligations is $25,000 or 25% (for 2 children) of $100,000.  Jon will pay support to Jen in the amount of 40% (his pro rata share of total income) of the $25,000, which comes to $10,000 per year or $833.33 per month.

In divorce mediation, you can handle differently.  There are a multitude of ways to find a child support figure that is fair and equitable to both parties.  Sometimes couples in mediation decide to stick with the NY CSSA calculations or to vary slightly from the guidelines.  But the important thing is that you can decide your own destiny and find an arrangement that works for both of you.

One popular way of determining basic child support is to base child support on the actual expenses of both spouses.  How much does the parent receiving child support need to be self-sufficient?  How much can the spouse paying child support afford to pay and still care for the children after his or her child support payment?  These are questions that the parties explore with the help and advice of our divorce mediators.  This “Budget Method” is beneficial because you can look at more than just the income of the respective parties and the concentration is placed on budgeting and planning so each party can meet future expenses.

There are other ways of determining child support.  Sometimes, a party will take less child support if they are given more assets that can be used to meet the children’s needs.  For example, in the above example, Jen may agree to only take $400 per month in child support if Jon agrees to give up his interest in the marital home, which has no mortgage.  Jen can stay there with the children and will not have to pay rent or a mortgage payment.  Therefore, she is willing to take less in monthly support in exchange for this financial benefit.  Our family mediators encourage both parties to discuss and explore various option.  We encourage our clients to propose creative solutions and our mediators brainstorm solutions based upon the couple’s specific circumstances.

It should be noted that each case is unique and it is impossible to state with certainty what will happen in Court. However, the courts very often use the CSSA guidelines to determine child support. Even if you do not use the guidelines, you must calculate the guideline amount and both parties must acknowledge that they have been advised that this figure is the presumptive amount of child support.

The above article deals with basic child support only.  Our next blog will deal with additional child support for extracurricular activities, summer camp, work related child care, and medical and dental expenses.  These expenses are often referred to as “add-ons”.  Stay tuned and remember that Divorce Mediation Advisors is Your Path Forward…Call our office today and speak with a family mediator.