Calculating the first part of the child support award—i.e., the regular payments from one parent to another—is a three-step process.
The custodial parent is considered to be paying his or her share of child support by virtue of having the children live with him or her.
First, you need to calculate the parents’ incomes and add them together to get the combined parental income. Income is a term that’s defined extensively in the child support law (see Domestic Relations Law Section 240(1-b)(b)(5)), and there are components to it that are complex and come as a surprise to parents. Keep in mind that income for child support purposes is neither your full gross (pre-tax) nor your net (after-tax) income, though it’s much closer to your gross than your net. Consult with your attorney or mediator regarding how to appropriately calculate your income for child support purposes.
Second, once the combined parental income has been determined, the court will apply a percentage to it, corresponding to the number of children entitled to child support. The law calls for the court to multiply the lesser of the combined parental income or a cap determined by statute (currently $163,000) by a corresponding percentage. That percentage is 17% for one child, 25% for two children, 29% for three children, 31% for four children, and at least 35% for five children. So, if you have two kids, and your combined parental income is $100,000, the court would multiply $100,000 by 25%, resulting in a combined child support obligation of $25,000. (A separate post will address families in which the combined parental income exceeds the cap set by statute [currently $163,000].)
Third, once the combined child support obligation amount is determined, the court assigns % responsibility for it between the parents based on their respective shares of the combined parental income. From the example above, if Parent A earns $40,000 and Parent B earns $60,000, Parent A earns 40% and Parent B earns 60% of the combined parental income. The court is, thus, instructed to assign Parent A 40% responsibility and Parent B 60% responsibility for the combined child support obligation, i.e., $25,000.
Then, whoever is deemed the “non-custodial” parent for child support purposes pays his or her share of child support to the “custodial” parent. Note that the custodial parent does not pay his or her share of child support to the non-custodial parent. The child support law was written at time when children tended to spend the vast majority of their time with one parent, who thus incurred the vast majority of child-related expenses. From that perspective, the custodial parent is considered to be paying his or her share of child support by virtue of having the children live with him or her.
If the children from our example above live with Parent B most of the time, Parent A would be responsible for paying child support to Parent B in the amount of $25,000 x 40%, or $10,000 per year. That support would be paid in regular monthly, bi-weekly or weekly installments.
In summary, add the parental income, apply the appropriate percentage and assign percentage responsibility between the parents. If your combined income exceeds the statutory cap, please consult with your attorney and see our further post on the subject.
For those who like to read primary sources, the New York statute that spells out the child support formula is the Domestic Relations Law (“DRL”). Section 240 of the DRL speaks to custody and child support, and subsection 1-b of Section 240 covers child support, specifically. It’s not reader-friendly, but for those who dare, here’s the link. The Family Court Act, Article 4, Section 413, spells out the same formula. Also a 0/10 on the reader-friendliness scale.