Perhaps you are considering a divorce. Some scary thoughts might enter your head:
How often will I get to see my children?
How will I pay my bills?
Will I get child support?
Would I be entitled to alimony? Would I have to pay alimony?
How could I ever afford to pay child support and alimony and still move forward with my life?
These are some of the first questions we get during our consultations. Understandably, a divorce is a life changing decision and not knowing what your financial status will look like can be terrifying. After all, you’ve worked hard to get to your current salary, right? Or perhaps you have given up your career to stay home and care for the children. What will you do now?
Most clients want a simple divorce and do not want the court to force them to do anything. Coming up with your own agreement and settling before reaching your trial date is the best way to make this happen. If you cannot settle on an agreement the Judge will make the decisions for you at trial. Most divorces settle for this exact reason.
You may settle at any time from the start of interaction with your attorney up until trial. The courts actually want you to settle and mandate (or highly recommend depending on the county) every divorce proceeding go to Mediation. Mediation is just a fancy name for an official day (or a few hours) that is set aside to meet and discuss potential settlement options with the other party (and his or her attorney), a certified mediator, and your attorney (if you have one). Hopefully, by the end of Mediation, you will walk away with a signed agreement. But again, you may settle any time prior to, at, or even after Mediation.
If the parties cannot settle at Mediation, or any time before or after, the case will move forward to trial. At trial both sides will present their testimony regarding what they believe is in the best interests of the children. Both parties will submit more financial information and the Judge will determine the amount of child support, alimony, and all the details regarding the time-sharing and upbringing of your children. To prepare for trial your attorney will be required to spend more hours working on your case and attending trial, which means your total attorney’s fees cost will increase. You may also be very disappointed with the Judge’s decision. Sometimes trials are necessary and the best route for resolution. Each case is different and your attorney will be able to help direct you to the most beneficial and efficient road to resolve.
More about the Settlement Agreement
The Settlement Agreement is prepared based on the wants and needs of the parties. It will include the equitable distribution of all property (real property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, debts like student loans, car loans, etc.). It will also include alimony, if any, decided on by the parties.
If you have children, it will also include a time-sharing schedule (including holiday and summer time-sharing), child support amounts, health insurance and tax designations, and all the other details important to the upbringing of your children.
Child Support is determined by the Child Support Guidelines, a mathematical calculation based off the combined incomes of the parties and the amount of overnight time the child spends with each parent. Additionally, the child support considers costs of health insurance and/or childcare. After the total support for the children is calculated, it is divided proportionally to each parent dependent on their income or earning capacity. This often results in one parent owing a monthly obligation to the other.
It should be noted that even an unemployed spouse will not have a zero dollar income in a child support calculation. As long as the spouse is not disabled, the spouse is imputed to be able to earn at least minimum wage at 40 hours per week. If the spouse has a degree or had a career prior, the presumption of income may be higher.
Interestingly enough, paying alimony to your spouse is included as “income” for child support purposes. So any alimony paid will be deducted from one party’s income and added to the other party’s income prior to running the child support number.
The purpose of child support is to provide for the children. We like to explain to our clients that child support is like a pie. It includes the cost of daycare and health insurance, as well as a basic daily amount for basic living expenses. We put all of these expenses into the entire pie of support needed. Then that pie is divided proportionally depending on the time-sharing schedule and incomes of the parties.
So in sum, child support is calculated by:
- Allowable net incomes of each party (gross income minus with only allowable deductions)
- Amount of overnights
- Cost of daycare
- Cost of health insurance
Cost of regularly incurred medical expenses (although this is seldom included).