In Alabama, child support is governed by Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration Rule 32 (A.R.J.A.). This is often referred to as the “Child Support Guidelines.” When determining the amount of child support owed whether in a divorce case or simply in a child support case, the court must apply the guidelines. The guidelines use an income share method to calculate child support. In other words, the guidelines provide that both parents shall contribute to the support of the children. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist the courts, lawyers, and parties in getting a more consistent determination of child support. Furthermore, there is a legal presumption that child support amount calculated based on the guidelines must be used and followed. However, the court can deviate from the guidelines for certain legal reasons.
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Alabama Child Support Guidelines
The Alabama Child Support Guidelines are used by the court whenever the court has to establish or modify child support. It does not matter if it is a temporary or permanent child support order. Alabama uses an income share method to calculate child support in the divorce. In other words, Alabama uses the monthly gross income of both parties to determine the basic child support amount owed by the non custodial parent. With the income share method, the gross income of both parents are first computed. This total family gross income is used to calculate the basic child support obligation. However, each party can subtract out from their gross income any existing child support payments and periodic alimony payments. The total monthly child support amount is determined based on the revised gross income of both spouses and the number of children. The guidelines assumes that the custodial parent will claim the minor children as his or her custody dependents for federal and state income tax purposes.
Number of Children to be considered under the Guidelines
When determining the number of children that should be used in the calculation child support, you should first start with any children born of the parties or have been adopted by the non-biological spouse. Additionally, any children under the age of 19 are in the calculation of child support. Unless adopted, stepchildren are not included in the calculation.
Gross Income of Both Parents
The first step in determining child support paid by the non-custodial parent, is to determine the monthly gross income of both parties. Gross income is how much you make each month before the deduction of taxes, (i.e. pretax). Some examples of types of gross income include:
- social security benefits
- workers’ compensation benefits
- and unemployment benefits.
If a party is self-employed, gross income means gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary expenses required to produce income. However, gross income does not include income from such sources like:
- Child support payment received for other children
- Supplemental Security Income
- Food Stamps; and
- General Assistance
Work Related Child Care Costs and Health Insurance Costs
Added to the basic child support obligation is work related child care costs and health insurance costs. Child care cost shall not exceed the amount required to provide care from a licensed provider which is provided Department of Human Resources (i.e. DHR) guidelines. The health care cost is the total insurance premium for family and/or dependent coverage. It does not matter if non-related children are covered under the health insurance plan. The total cost of the monthly insurance premium is used.
Percentage of Total Income
The total child support amount is multiplied by the percentage of the total income of both the mother and father. The non-custodial parent pays his or her percentage of the total support to the other spouse.
Deviation from the Child Support Guidelines
The court and the parties can deviate from the child support guidelines for various legal reasons. In other words, the court can raise or lower the recommended child support amount. There can be an upward deviation or a downward deviation. Some legal reasons to deviate from child support guidelines include:
- Shared physical custody
- Extraordinary costs of transportation for purpose of visitation
- College expenses incurred prior to child’s 19 birthday
- Assets or unearned income of a child
Payment of Child Support
In Alabama, the payment of child support by the obligor (i.e. the parent paying the child support) to the obligee (the parent receiving the child support) can be made one of several different ways. Child support payments can be paid directly from one spouse to the other spouse. Child support payments can also be deducted out of the noncustodial parent’s check through a withholding order issued by the court. The paying parent can also pay the child support owed into the court. The manner in which child support is to be paid shall be set forth in the order of the court.
Modification of Child Support
Also the child support guidelines are to be used when determining the periodic update of child support obligations. One party must file a petition for modification or the parties must file a joint petition for modification of child support. Any modification to the child support will be effective on any child support obligation accrued after the petition has been filed with the court. For a petition to modify child support to prevail, there must be a material change in the circumstances that is substantial and continuing since the last order of child support. The court has interpreted that a rebuttable presumption that child support should be modified when there is a difference between the existing child support award and the amount determined by the guidelines varies by more than 10% unless the variation is due to the fact the existing child-support award resulted from a rebuttal of the guidelines and there has been no change in the circumstances that resulted in the rebuttal of the guidelines. Nevertheless, the court still has the power to modify a child support order award when the petitioner has proven a material change in circumstances that is substantially continuing. Conversely, the court has the discretion to deny a petition even when there is a 10% differential if it the result will be manifestly unjust or inequitable.
You should always consult an attorney to help you determine the proper amount of child support. If you have questions about child support, please give me a call to discuss your situation.