6 MYTHS ABOUT CHILD SUPPORT

1. A parent who doesn’t pay child support can lose his rights to custody or parenting time.

Parents who don’t pay child support can be held in contempt of the child support order, and fined or jailed. But they don’t lose custody or parenting time rights. Nor is the parent who is owed child support justified in denying parenting time.

2. Child support can be avoided by “giving up rights” to a child.

You can’t unilaterally “give up” your parental rights. In Michigan parents’ rights are terminated when (1) there’s an adoption, where there is a person ready, willing and eager to become the new parent, and (2) Child Protective Services of DHS brings a child protection proceeding is brought and a parent is found guilty of abusing or neglecting a child (an adoption often ensues). Also, adoptions end only future child support; any past support owed is still due and collectible.

3. It can be waived.

Michigan mandates using the Michigan Child Support Formula in all cases. Deviations from the formula are allowed only if it creates an “unjust or inappropriate result.”   Section 1.04(E) of the 2013 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual (2013 MCSF) describes 21 reasons—mostly unusual financial situations—that might support a deviation. If a judge allows a deviation she must formally explain the unfairness, the amount of the deviation and the reasons justifying it. In my experience, judges rarely or never allow deviations.

4. Child support stops when a child reaches age of majority (18).

Child support continues until the child reaches 18 or up to 19½ while full-time enrolled in high school expecting to graduate. Support often ends at the end of the child’s senior year in high school, months after the child has reached 18.

5. It can change only every 3 years.

Child support can change anytime there’s a substantial change—especially an increase—in a parent’s income, or a change in cost of child care or medical insurance or other allowed expenses. (The “minimum threshold for modification,” according to Section 4.04 of the 2013 MCSF is a “10% change or “$50 per month, whichever is greater.”)

If there’s a strong argument for changing child support you don’t have to wait for three years after the last child support review; you can file a request for a review by the Friend of the Court, or a motion to modify child support. You should explain, and be ready to prove, the new circumstance and how it should affect child support.

A parent has a right to a review every 3 years even without an argument or reason for changing it. If you think a Friend of the Court review could turn up helpful information about income, etc., consider asking for a three-year review.

6. It’s zero when parents have 50-50 parenting time.

My clients are sometimes surprised when child support is charged even though they’re following, for instance, an alternating weekly parenting schedule. The amount of time each parent spends with the child is only a factor in the formula. Parents’ incomes are critical. Child support is supposed to equalize their incomes. The amount is “apportioned … based on each parent’s share of their combined net incomes” (Section 3.01(B) of the 2013 MCSF).

This seems especially fair when one parent has a six-figure income and the other has minimum wage. But child support can also be charged when parents’ incomes are closer, though the amount for a 50-50 schedule will always be a much lower than when one parent has primary physical custody and 70% of parenting time or more.