- Child Custody
- Family Law
- Child Support
Child Support in Shared Custody Cases
Most child support guidelines present a formula for calculating child support where the parents share custody of the child or children.
Definition of Shared Custody
Shared physical custody means that both parents share the obligation of providing shelter, food, clothing, and the other expenses of raising a child. It is not necessary that custody be equally divided between the parties for shared physical custody. In many states, shared custody is defined in terms of the number of nights the child or children spend with each parent. In most states it is a minimum of either 35 percent of the nights (128 nights) or 40 percent of the nights (146 nights). Because the calculation often results in a lower child support award, parents in states that define shared custody in terms of the number of nights often fight over the number of nights with each parent, even when they agree to joint legal custody. A parent who has the child every other Saturday night and a week in the summer does not share custody. The arguments occur where the parent has every other week-end from Friday night until Sunday night or Monday morning, half of the winter and spring school break, extended holiday week-ends, and most of the summer. The parents will dispute each period of visitation to maximize or minimize the number of nights.
States such as Minnesota do not require a minimum number of nights to establish shared custody. These states require that the arrangement between the parents constitute sharing the “routine daily care and control and the residence of the child.” Even in states which require a minimum number of nights, a parent may argue that the child or children spend 10 weeks during the summer with that parent and as a result, the parent must provide shelter, clothing, food, and other expenses for an extended period of time. The argument is that this should be considered shared custody. Some states and some judges, but not all, will agree. On the other hand, where a parent is granted shared physical custody, but fails to exercise the rights of custody by failing to take and care for the child or children, many court will not place emphasis on the language of the custody arrangement, but will provide child support based on the true circumstances.
Calculation of Child Support
The calculation of child support in shared custody cases takes into consideration that each parent must provide housing, food, clothing, and other direct expenses. The method of calculating basic child support is very similar in many states. The first step is to determine the child support rate based on the combined income of both parents and the number of children of the parties covered by the child support order. This base rate is multiplied by 1.5 to get the adjusted rate to reflect the fact that both parents must provide housing, food, clothing, and transportation for the children. This adjusted rate is then divided between the parties based on the number of nights spent with each parent and the income of each parent. To this base amount is added the pro-rated costs for health case, work related day care, and schooling.
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