Answers to Frequently Asked Child Support Questions Posed by Self-Represented Parties in NH Divorce and Parenting Cases
New Hampshire divorce cases involving minor children, and all parenting cases, require the parties and the family division court to consider child support. While NH divorce lawyers and family law attorneys regularly deal with child support, self-represented parties do not.
“If you are representing yourself, you may be paying too much, or receiving too little, child support from the other parent.”
Self-represented parties sometimes pay more child support than they need to or, conversely, receive less child support than they should. This blog post will attempt to answer some common questions self-represented parties have regarding child support.
What is Child Support?
Child support is the obligation of one parent to provide the other parent with money to care for the parties’ child(ren) after the parents have separated. The idea behind child support is that both parents are financially responsible for their child(ren). And that the child(ren) should not be economically disadvantaged in either household after the relationship ends.
Another way to think about child support is from the perspective of the state. When parents split up, their expenses increase, while their respective incomes stay the same. Expenses increase because each parent must establish a separate household and separately pay expenses they once shared. One parent, usually the one who was the primary breadwinner during the relationship, is often better situated to separately provide for the child(ren). The lower earning parent, or the parent who stayed at home and raised the children, is often unable to make ends meet after the relationship ends. Without child support, this parent would ask the state for financial help – cash assistance, food stamps, health care, etc. The state cannot bear the huge financial cost this would entail and requires child support to avoid this burden.
Which Parent is Obligated to Pay Child Support?
In the past, fathers almost invariably paid mothers child support. This was based on the traditional roles played by each in the family unit. Mothers stayed at home, raised the children, and did not pursue their careers. Fathers worked full time and financially supported the family. When parents in a traditional relationship separated, the mother was still expected to house and raise the children, but lacked the money to do so. The father was expected to move out into smaller accommodations, continue to work, and see the children sparingly – every other weekend and one evening during the week, typically. Under these circumstances, it made sense that the father would pay the mother child support.
Fast forward to the present. Mothers. like fathers, now work full-time to support the family. Fathers, like mothers, share in child rearing activities. So, who pays child support when the parents separate? It can’t be based on the parent’s sex – that would be state-sponsored discrimination. It also can’t be based upon who has the children more of the time – that parent might very well earn more than the parent who sees the child(ren) less often. In New Hampshire, assuming shared residential responsibility, the parent who earns more often is obligated to pay child support. Why? Because the higher earning parent can provide the lower earning parent with money so that the children cannot differentiate between the economic lifestyles of both parents.
How Much Child Support is a Parent Required to Pay?
New Hampshire uses a child support guideline formula to determine how much a parent is required to pay. This formula uses the gross income of both parents, the number of children, child care expenses, and other factors to calculate the amount of child support. This formula is accessible to unrepresented parties in the NH child support calculator.
Under the formula, the parent required to pay child support is the “obligor.” But which parent is the obligor? Surprisingly, there is no hard and fast rule – “obligor” is not defined in the child support statute.
While usually the parent with the higher income is the obligor, this is not always true. The lower earning parent can be the obligor if s/he exercises very little parenting time with the children. Conversely, the higher earning parent who exercises primary residential responsibility with the child(ren) can be the obligor if s/he earns far more than the noncustodial parent. To make matters more confusing, the parties may earn roughly the same income and exercise equal or approximately equal parenting time. In these circumstances, the “obligor,” while technically the higher earning parent, isn’t always required to pay child support.
Needless to say, the family division court ultimately decides which party is the obligor in the event of a dispute.
The parents’ gross incomes are used to calculate child support. Gross income is defined in the statute, however, suffice it to say that almost all income is includable as gross income. Federal income taxes are not deducted when calculating gross income. Bonuses, when received regularly, are included in gross income.
The number of children are also input into the formula to determine child support. The more children, the higher the percentage of the obligor’s income that is devoted to child support. The formula then allows both parties to deduct child-related expenses, one-half of state income taxes and one-half of self-employment taxes from their gross incomes and calculates the amount of child support owed, expressed in monthly, biweekly, or weekly increments. This amount is the presumptively correct amount of child support the obligor parent is required to pay the obligee parent.
Is There Any Way to Pay More or Less Than the Presumptively Correct Amount of Child Support?
Every rule has its exceptions, and the child support statute is no different. The obligor can pay more, or less, than the presumptively correct child support amount if s/he can show certain special circumstances. Whether or not a special circumstance exists can be agreed-upon by the parties or determined by the family division court. Special circumstances include the parenting schedule, a parent’s high or low income, extraordinary child care expenses, and any other factor that avoids an unreasonably high or low support order.
Can a Child Support Obligation be Modified?
Yes, but only after filing the required paperwork with the family division court. Either parent is entitled to a review of the current child support order three years from the date the original child support order was issued. Alternatively, either parent can petition the family division court to review the child support order if s/he believes a substantial change in circumstances has occurred which makes the current child support order improper or unfair.
When Does Child Support End in New Hampshire?
Child support ends when a child turns eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever is later. However, a parent caring for a child with special needs may receive child support after these milestones under certain circumstances.
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