Child support is one of the fundamental issues in a divorce that involves children that are less than 18 years of age. Often, a divorce will result in the breakup of a family, and this will affect the financial circumstances of one or both parents. Whichever parent gets custody of the child will need to cater to the child’s needs, but this financial obligation may be too much for them to carry alone. This is why child support exists.
The process of determining who will pay child support, how much should be paid, and how, is often complex though. There are special legal rules created under Michigan law to regulate this aspect of divorces, in order to ensure that the best interests of children in a divorce are catered to.
Due to this potential complexity, it is vital to consult with an attorney early in the process to ensure an outcome that protects the interests of you and your child. The experienced Detroit family law attorney at Meeker Law understands the difficulty of the child support determination process and knows exactly how to help you.
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Child support under Michigan law
Child support is a financial payment made to a custodial parent at a set time every month, for the care of a child of the marriage. In Michigan, both parents are required to support their children until the age of 18, or until the minor child graduates from high school, whichever is later.
But the payment is typically made by the non-custodial parent and is meant to contribute towards the maintenance of a good standard of living for the parties’ children even after finalizing their divorce. This does not mean that the custodial parent is not obligated to pay child support. Instead, the law assumes they are already spending those amounts directly on the child.
Child support may be mandated under a court order. This may be the same order that finalizes the divorce, or it may be the result of a subsequent case filed before a family law court. Otherwise, child support may be agreed upon by both parents in negotiations relating to a parenting agreement or divorce settlement agreement.
Although it is natural to believe only the natural parents of a child may be required to pay child support, the position in Michigan law is different. Under the law, an adoptive parent may also be required to pay child support. The father of a child that was born out of wedlock may also have to pay child support to the single mother.
Child support in Michigan generally continues until the child reaches 18. Although, it can extend even longer (until 19.5 years) if the child is:
Enrolled full-time in a high school
Expected to graduate
Lives full-time with the custodial parent or at an institution
While parents may negotiate the amount of child support between themselves, this amount is usually calculated using Michigan’s Child Support Formula. Parents can also use the schedules in the Child Support Formula Supplement to estimate the amount of support they have to pay, but a judge has the final say on the amount.
How is child support calculated in Michigan?
Michigan’s Child Support Formula is developed by the Friend of the Court Bureau (FOC). FOC is an agency that provides specialized services in Michigan courts especially relating to the custody, support, and welfare of children in the state.
The child support formula determines which parent should pay, and how much they should pay, based on their net income and the total amount of parenting time accruing to each parent. A person’s net income is all of their income, minus taxes and other compulsory payments.
While certain income, such as a one-time gift or an inheritance, may be excluded from the calculation, you may still be regarded as having an income even if you are unemployed. Under Michigan law, benefits such as disability, unemployment, and compensation benefits must be included for child support purposes. The court could even impute a potential income to a parent, meaning they could assign an amount to you even if you voluntarily work very little or not at all.
Apart from income, and parenting time, the formula also takes other factors into consideration:
The number of children in the marriage
The estimated cost of childcare
Remember that, while the formula helps parents and the court estimate how much child support should be paid, the court has the final say on the amount.
Enforcement and modification of child support in Michigan
Child support is a serious obligation in Michigan. Parents are expected to pay child support as and when due and any failure to comply may lead to enforcement measures that may include:
Garnishing state or federal tax returns due to the payer
Withholding income from the payer’s wages
Suspending their driver’s license
Placing a lien on the payer’s personal and real property
Citing the payer for contempt, which can lead to imprisonment
Unpaid child support is also treated as a debt. This means if you fail to pay as required by law, the failure may be reported to credit bureaus and these debts will appear on your credit report. This can potentially impact your ability to secure credit facilities in the future.
If you believe your child support obligations are unfair, the skilled attorneys at Meeker Law can help you request a modification in the family court. Ordinarily, the FOC may review your child support order every 36 months to ensure that the payment meets the child’s needs. It is possible to ask the FOC to initiate this review earlier and file a motion with the court to modify the order.
A family law judge may modify the order at any time before the 36-month review period. But they would only do so where they find a substantial change in either parent’s circumstances. Examples of a substantial change include illness that prevents a parent from working or other circumstances that affect their income or ability to work.
Challenging the amount of child support
In some circumstances, the judge may adopt a child support amount that is different from the estimate that results from the Child Support Formula calculations. These circumstances are limited though and usually occur only where the judge feels a standardized result under the formula would be unfair.
You may ask the judge to adjust the amount of child support before the final order is in place. Some of the factors that the court may consider include:
Extraordinary education expenses for the child
Whether a parent has sufficient income to pay an amount of child support that raises the child’s standard of living above the public assistance threshold
Whether the child earns an extraordinary income
Where the parent’s share of child support takes over 50% of their base support obligation
Bringing the court to see how a child support award may be unfair can be difficult, as there is a presumption that the estimate provided by the formula is appropriate. However, with the help of skilled Metro-Detroit family law and child support attorneys, it is possible to help the court see your side of the story.
To speak with an attorney about your child support issues, contact Meeker Law at (586) 554-8353 for help.
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