In this article, a Michigan divorce attorney breaks down Michigan child support laws. If you are a father going through divorce in Michigan, you will most likely be required to pay child support.
This article explains how the system works including the factors that go into the Michigan child support calculator.
In Michigan both parents are obligated to support a minor child unless a court modifies or terminates the obligation or the child is emancipated. However, if the emancipation is court ordered, as opposed to emancipation by law, the obligation could continue past emancipation. Emancipation by law occurs with marriage, military service or age.
Even if a parent doesn’t have primary physical custody of a child, they are still required to contribute to the support of that child even if the custodial parent has sufficient income to meet the needs of the child without financial assistance.
Child support obligations continue until the last day of the month the child turns 18 unless the child is attending high school on a full-time basis after turning 18 with a reasonable expectation of graduating. However, in that case, the support will not extent beyond the child reaching the age of 19 years and six months.
The court must apply the child Michigan Child Support Formula (“MCSF”) when calculating child support. The support obligation under the MCSF consists of: (1) a base support amount adjusted for parenting time; (2) medical support obligations which include ordinary and extraordinary medical expenses, health care coverage and division of premiums; and, (3) child care expense obligations.
The number of children covered, the overnights each parent has with the children, and the income of the parties, are used in calculating the base support pursuant to the MCSF. The base support number is then adjusted depending on the amount of health insurance premiums paid for the benefit of the child and any child care expenses either party pays. The base support, adjusted for health care costs and child care expenses, will provide the total child support obligation a parent has to pay.
A big question mark in child support cases is the parties’ incomes. The formula uses a parent’s net income, which is defined as all income minus deductions and adjustments permitted by the child support manual.
By using net income, the goal is to determine how much money is available for support of the child. Income is not limited strictly to wages, but can also include earnings generated from a business, partnership, rentals, distributed profits from retirement accounts, and any money or income due or owed by another individual. Income can also include market value of any perquisites received if they reduce personal expenses, have significant value or are received regularly. Certain expenses can also be deducted from income as well.
When determining income, a commonly contested issue is potential income when a party is unemployed, underemployed, or has an unexercised ability to earn income. In those instances, the court could impute or attribute income to a party based on their prior work history, education level, ability to work, availability of work opportunities, diligence in seeking employment, evidence that the party can earn the imputed income, personal history, presence of the children in the party’s home, and other factors.
Therefore, trying to minimize your income to lower your obligation is a losing strategy and courts can and will look beyond just what your income is to determine what you are realistically capable of earning when determining each party’s income for purposes of calculating support.
Under the Michigan Child Support Formula, when applying the formula would lead to an unjust or inappropriate result, the court could deviate from the formula and determine a more appropriate amount.
To deviate, the court must state its reasons that the formula produces an unjust or inappropriate amount and is guided by specific deviation factors listed in the child support manual which includes any other factor deemed relevant to the best interests of the child.
This gives a court the ability to deviate where necessary, however simply trying to deviate because you disagree with the policies embodied in the formula is not allowed.
The court also can order either of the parties to provide health insurance for a minor child which includes payment for hospital, dental, optical and other health-care expenses when the coverage is available at a reasonable cost. Reasonable is defined as not to exceed six percent of the parent’s gross monthly income.
Regarding uninsured health-care expenses, the formula presumes that a person will spend a certain amount per child per year on ordinary medical expenses. The number is currently $403 for one child, but this amount is periodically updated in accordance with fluctuating economic factors. This number is factored into the support formula and the payer’s share is part of the support payment. When uninsured health-care expenses exceed that annual ordinary medical amount, those extraordinary expenses are apportioned between the parties based on their incomes.
Child care expenses can be included in the formula so that a parent can maintain employment, look for employment, or attend educational programs to improve employment opportunities.
When there is an established child care pattern, the parties can use actual costs. When there is no established pattern, the expenses should be based on the community’s average child care costs or written quotations from local child care providers.
It is presumed that he need for child care continues until August 31 following the child’s twelfth birthday, however it can continue beyond that if the child’s health and safety require continuing child care. The expenses of child care are allocated in the formula based on each parent’s percentage share of the family income.
After child support is established, it can still be modified under certain circumstances. The law allows for modifications as the circumstances of the parents and the benefit of the children require, upon proper application to the court and due notice to the opposite party, and or proper cause or a change in circumstances.
However, it is important to know that support is only modifiable from the date notice of a petition for modification is given to the other party. In other words, if circumstances change that would warrant a modification, if you wait several months to petition the court to modify, the court will not go back to the date of the change in circumstances and can only modify support based on the date the petition was filed. There is also a minimum threshold for modification.
The Michigan Child Support Formula defines that minimum threshold as ten (10%) percent of the current support amount or $50 per month, whichever is greater. Based on that, even if your change in income would change the amount owed under the formula, if you don’t meet that threshold, the court will not modify the support amount.
This is just a brief overview of the child support laws in Michigan and is not meant to be a substitute for the advice of counsel. There are many complexities involved in calculating child support and the family court system can be difficult to navigate, so it is best to consult with an attorney to determine your obligations and rights regarding child support.