In my experience, child support is one of the least contested areas of family law (as opposed to custody and visitation, which will be the subject of a later post). This is chiefly because the legislature has enacted a statute, NRS125B, that provides a formula for determining child support obligations as well as allowing for deviations from that formula. Formulas provide fewer billable hours for lawyers and thus lawyers have less incentive to provoke litigation in this area.
The basic formula in Nevada has the non-custodial parent paying a proportion of his (its usually a man) income to the custodial parent.
Here is a nice summary of Nevada law from this site:
“Gross monthly income” is defined as “the total amount of income received each month from any source of a person who is not self-employed, or the gross income from any source of a self-employed person, after deduction of all legitimate business expenses, but without deduction for personal income taxes, contributions for retirement benefits, contributions to a pension or for any other personal expenses.”
Gross income should be multiplied by the following percentages to determine the correct child support amount:
(1) For one child, 18 percent;
(2) For two children, 25 percent;
(3) For three children, 29 percent;
(4) For four children, 31 percent; and
(5) For each additional child, an additional 2 percent,
The minimum amount of support that may be awarded by a court in any case is $100 per month per child, unless the court makes a written finding that the obligor is unable to pay the minimum amount. Willful underemployment or unemployment is not a sufficient cause to deviate from the awarding of at least the minimum amount.
However, there is also a presumptive maximum amount of child support the court can order. The presumptive maximum amount the parent may be required to pay per month per child is as follows:
Income Range Presumptive Maximum Amount $0-$4168 $500 $4168-$6251 $550 $6251-$8334 $600 $8334-$10,418 $650 $10,418-$12,501 $700 $12,501-$14,583 $750 $14,583 or more $800
-From the Nevada Revised Statutes 125B.070
NOTE: The presumptive maximum adjusts every year (check this site for details).
Deviating from the Child Support Guidelines.
It is presumed that the basic needs of a child are met by the formulas, unless sufficient evidence can be shown to prove otherwise. If one or both parties believe sufficient evidence exists to deviate from the child support formula, they must stipulate those facts in writing. Factors for deviation from the child support formula include:
(a) The cost of health insurance;
(b) The cost of child care;
(c) Any special educational needs of the child;
(d) The age of the child;
(e) The legal responsibility of the parents for the support of others;
(f) The value of services contributed by either parent;
(g) Any public assistance paid to support the child;
(h) Any expenses reasonably related to the mother’s pregnancy and confinement;
(i) The cost of transportation of the child to and from visitation if the custodial parent moved with the child from the jurisdiction of the court which ordered the support and the noncustodial parent remained;
(j) The amount of time the child spends with each parent;
(k) Any other necessary expenses for the benefit of the child; and
(l) The relative income of both parents.
-From the Nevada Revised Statutes 125B.080
Dispute over income. If the parties disagree as to the amount of the gross monthly income of the other party, the court shall determine the amount and may direct either party to furnish financial information or other records, including income tax returns for the preceding 3 years.
Health care. Expenses for health care which are not reimbursed, including expenses for medical, surgical, dental, orthodontic and optical expenses, must be borne equally by both parents in the absence of extraordinary circumstances.
Willful unemployment or underemployment. If a parent who has an obligation for support is willfully underemployed or unemployed to avoid an obligation for support of a child, that obligation must be based upon the parent’s true potential earning capacity.
-From the Nevada Revised Statutes 125B.080
So how does it work in practice?
To start, the formula makes the obligation pretty clear and the “presumptive maximum” means that the custodial parent has the burden to prove that it should be higher. There are also opportunities for deviations (although in my case, the Court only seemed to focus on how medical insurance and extraordinary medical expenses would be handled- which, by law, must be included in a child support order – my children were older so I would be keen to hear from readers about their experiences of deviations on things like child care). For these things, I am grateful (especially not being forced to pay for college).
Negatives of the Nevada Child Support System
Most states have an income share model – a model that determines the needs of the child for a given household income and then splits the obligation according to parental income shares. In Nevada, the child support obligation is basically a function of non-custodial gross income. Gross income, of course, may not be a good proxy for net income as tax rates increase at higher income levels leaving less net income per dollar of gross income. The custodial parent may also be earning a significant sum which may reduce the need for support (in theory you can deviate according to relative incomes but I have not heard any lawyer mention this as a feasible strategy in my case).
For instance, in Washington state, the percentages are based on net income and are about 18% (for 1 child) and 27% (for 2 children) of combined net income. Each parent has to pay their share of this amount in proportion to net income (after alimony). In my case, I would have been ordered to pay around $645 per month per child instead of $800+ under the Nevada system (although the presumptive maximum acts as a sort of cap which mitigates the effect of the Nevada system to some extent).
Probably one of the biggest weaknesses in the Nevada system is that the presumptive maximum amount increase due to inflation each year but the income bands do not! Thus, in 2001, someone with an income over $14,583 was required to pay no more than $800 per child. Today, the amount is $930 for the same income bracket. The maximum has risen 16.25% but the $14,583 cutoff has risen to $14,816 – only 1.6%!
One unanticipated outcome from my forced settlement was that the judge fixed the amount of child support as non-modifiable (for about 3 years until my youngest child reaches 18). This provides some certainty that even if my income goes up due to a promotion or new job that my obligations will remain fixed according to my income when I initiated the divorce.
Probably the biggest complaint that people have with the system are the punitive penalties that apply to being a ‘deadbeat’ dad. A court order is required to adjust child support payments – it doesn’t automatically change if you income level changes – you have to petition to the Court for a modification. If a dad starts earning less (or loses his job), the court may decide that this represents wilfull underemployment and may still require that the payments are made at the higher level. This could lead to serious arrearages (although Nevada does not charge interest on arrears).
Results of Not Paying Child Support
- your income can be withheld by your employer
- the IRS can withhold your tax returns
- your passport can be revoked
- your driver’s license and professional licenses can be revoked
- liens can be placed on your property
- a judge can find you in contempt and jail you indefinitely
Obviously, someone is very keen for you to pay your child support. Apparently, the State receives money from the Feds for reducing the number of deadbeat dads – hence the strong “incentives” to collect – even though most ‘deadbeat dads’ are unemployed low income workers and the costs of collection are greater than the recovered amounts.