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How is Child Support Calculated?

July 26, 2018

        Child support in Idaho is determined based on the rules and formulas set forth in the Idaho Child Support Guidelines. Following is a brief summary of some of the general principles and rules contained in the Guidelines to illustrate how child support is typically calculated. Specific facts and circumstances of any particular case will determine how child support is calculated in that case.

        Both parents are legally responsible for the financial support of their children, based on their respective earning abilities. The “gross income” of each parent is used to calculate their support obligation. Formulas set forth in the Guidelines dictate what percentage of a parent’s income should be dedicated for the support of the children, given a certain income level and number of children. Income from new spouses is not considered, only the income of the legal parents. If a parent is already working a full-time (40 hours per week) job, then voluntary overtime pay or earnings from a second job would typically not be counted. If a parent is self-employed, their “gross income” for calculating child support is their gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary business expenses. Whether an expense should be treated as a personal expense or a business expense can be the subject of intense dispute. If a parent is not working full-time, then their potential income, the amount they could earn if they were to seek full-time employment, should be used to calculate their support obligation. A person’s “potential to earn” is another issue that is often hotly contested. Fringe benefits from employment that reduce living expenses may be counted as income for calculating child support. It is also important to understand that “gross income” is defined very broadly in the Guidelines, to include income from all types of sources, whether from employment, income generating property, public assistance programs, etc.

        Other important factors may apply in calculating child support obligations, such as: whether spousal support is being paid between the parents, and whether either parent has support obligations for prior children from other relationships.

        Generally, the parent who has the children in their care most of the time satisfies their support obligation by supplying the children’s needs while the children are in their care, and the other parent satisfies their support obligation by paying a certain amount to the parent who is the primary custodian. If both parents have the children in their care more than 25% of the time, then their share of the monetary support is offset by the amount of time the children are in their care. This will significantly reduce the amount of support being paid between the parents, to the point that if both parents have equal incomes and equal time with the children then neither parent would pay child support to the other.

            Certain tax benefits (the "child tax credit", but generally not the "earned income credit") resulting from claiming dependent children are to be shared by both parents in proportion to their relative incomes. Generally, this sharing is calculated as an offset to the basic child support amount. Other financial obligations for children, such as work-related childcare expenses and healthcare expenses, are in addition to the basic child support amount. Because the amount of these child-related expenses that will occur in the future typically cannot be predicted, a specific dollar amount for these expenses is generally not specified in the child support order. Rather, the child support order will require that these future expenses be shared by the parents as they occur, in proportion to the parties' incomes.

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