Becoming a parent means you have the legal responsibility to financially support your children at least until they reach the age of 21, or are otherwise considered emancipated. That obligation doesn’t go away if you get a divorce or otherwise split up — instead, it is usually enumerated by court order in the form of child support payments.
Child support requirements and calculation methods can vary considerably from state to state, but the general idea is the same: If a lower-earning spouse has primary custody of the children, the higher-earning spouse will probably be required to make payments.
But given that child support payments are based on both parents’ financial circumstances, which can change significantly over the years, it is sometimes possible to modify the payment amount to make it higher or lower. Here is a brief overview of how that process works in New York.
Child Support in New York
Under a law passed by Congress in 1975, every state was required to establish a child support program. In New York, the terms are relatively straightforward. Noncustodial parents, or those with whom children do not live most of the time, are required to make financial payments and provide health insurance, coverage of health expenses, and funds for childcare and education to help support their children.
Even if parents or guardians who have custody of the children afford to take care of them, non-custodial parents still have a legal obligation to contribute their fair share. A court determine the amount by looking at the noncustodial parent’s adjusted gross income and apply a statutory percentage — or the court might make a more tailored calculation if both parents make at least $163,000 per year in combined earnings.
According to state authorities, the standard percentages of a noncustodial parent's adjusted gross income are 17 percent for one child, 25 percent for two, 29 percent for three, 31 percent for four, and 35 percent for five or more.
When Can Payments be Modified?
There are several reasons why one or both parents may wish to modify required child support payments. In New York, either the custodial or noncustodial parent can file a petition with the court for a modification if either of their financial situations changes significantly.
“Significant” changes can include a job loss, a shift in who has become the primary caregiver for a child, a child becoming emancipated, or changes in the educational or medical needs of a child. If you’re looking to reduce your payment obligations because of a job loss, do keep in mind that the job loss must be involuntary, such as a layoff. Courts in New York won’t give noncustodial parents a break in payments if they quit their jobs voluntarily. If a noncustodial parent gets a big raise, it is also possible for the custodial parent or guardian to seek a modification that increases child support payments. The same might also be true if the child gets into an expensive private university, like Harvard, or sustains an injury, or develops a medical condition that is costly to treat.
What About Cost of Living Adjustments?
Inflation has been up steeply over the past couple of years, increasing the cost of living for families substantially. In New York, child support orders are automatically reviewed every two years to determine if the payment amount should increase due to a rising cost of living. A petition for a modification is not required.
If you do need to seek a modification to a child support order, an experienced divorce and family law attorney can be invaluable in helping you navigate the process. Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP is a leading divorce and child custody firm in New York, specializing in complex and high-net-worth divorces. Connect with us online or call us at 212.682.6222.