By Rudman Winchell Attorney Anthony A. Trask
I have written more than once about the difficulty of predicting how much a Maine Family Court will award in alimony in a divorce. Maine’s law on this subject is complex and allows the trial judge an abundance of discretion in deciding what is fair and reasonable.[i] As often as alimony, people contemplating divorce also ask how much they will have to pay in child support. Fortunately, this is a much easier question to answer because the Maine Legislature has provided very specific guidelines.[ii]
Before getting into numbers, it is important to know the basics. Only the parent who provides a child’s primary home is entitled to child support from the other parent, regardless of the incomes of the parties. If the parties have a shared primary residence, there will be no child support paid if the parties’ incomes are relatively comparable. If one parent makes substantially more than the other, the higher income parent will be required to pay child support to the lower income parent in order to ensure the child has everything he or she needs in both homes.
In Maine, child support is calculated based on three factors: 1) the Maine Child Support Guidelines established by the Legislature (this is based on the combined income of both parents); 2) health insurance costs for the child, if any; and, 3) daycare costs for the child, if any. The child support obligation is determined by adding those three figures together and each parent being responsible for his or her portion of the total based on his or her percentage of the parties’ joint income. For example, if both parties make $25,000 for a total joint income of $50,000, then each would be responsible for 50% of the total child support obligation determined by adding the three components above. Obviously, the person providing primary residence does not actually “pay” his or her share of the child support. It is presumed he or she will spend at least that much in providing a home for the children. The reality is the person providing primary residence is probably spending far more than his or her share of the total child support obligation.
If you are trying to determine how much child support you will obligated to pay you can get a pretty good indication by adding your annual income to the annual income of the child’s other parent and finding the combined income on a table called the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations.[iii] When you are at the correct income level, follow the chart to the appropriate number of children. Note, the chart is slightly different for children who are 12 or older. If you have multiple children, multiply the appropriate child support amount in the chart by the number of children and this will give you the base child support obligation. Add the weekly cost of health care for the children and the weekly cost of childcare and the sum of those three components provides to total child support obligation. Finally, determine what percentage of the total income is attributable to you and you multiply the total support obligation by this percentage. There are some other factors that may change things slightly, but this will give you a very good idea of how much you will have to pay in child support.
One thing that often frustrates people is the fact that the incomes of parents’ new partners, if any, play absolutely no role in the calculation. It is easy to envision a situation where two struggling parents get a divorce and the mother does all she can to make child support payments to the father, who is providing the children’s primary residence. When the father remarries to someone who is enjoying tremendous financial success, it feels unfair to continue to make the mother struggle to pay child support that may well be put into a fund to pay for a trip to Disneyland. The rationale is the new partner has no legal obligation to support step-children so the child support order remains in place.
One other thing to consider is that your “earning capacity” is just as important as your current income. For example, if you have made $30,000 a year for the past five years but you decide to go back to school and work only part-time after your divorce the Court is likely to use $30,000 as your income for child support purposes because that is your earning capacity and you are voluntarily underemployed. Similarly, if you have never worked the Court is likely to impute at least $15,600 as your income for child support purposes because this is minimum wage ($7.50 per hour at 40 hours a week). This is designed to frustrate the disgruntled parent who thinks he or she can just quit his or her jobs to avoid paying support. Of course, having the Court issue a child support order and actually receiving child support payments are not the same. Collection of child support is another topic altogether.
There are, obviously, thousands of scenarios that come into play when calculating child support. If you are concerned about your potential child support obligation or would like to find out about modifying an existing child support order, we encourage you to contact one of our experienced family law attorneys to discuss your situation and determine if legal representation would be appropriate.
[i] Maine’s law on spousal support can be found in its entirety at: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/19-A/title19-Asec951-A.html
[ii] The complete Maine Child Support Guidelines can be located at: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/19-A/title19-Ach63sec0.html
[iii] Under Maine law, specific child support obligations are promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and are updated on a regular basis. The following link leads to the Rules and Policies page of the Maine DHHS website. Choosing the “Child Support” link will open the Child Support Enforcement Manual and the current Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations can be found at page 29: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ofi/rules/index.shtml