Child support payments are designed to ensure that once the divorce is completed that your children are able to maintain the lifestyle they were accustomed to before the divorce. Like most states, New York uses a formula that takes into account the income of both parents and the number of children to determine the amount of income that must be paid.
- One child: 17%
- Two children: 25%
- Three children 29%
- Four children: 31%
- Five children: minimum of 35%
The end result of the Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”) is that one parent pays the other money that is meant to be used for the children's home and expenses.
Child Support Income Cap
The formula used for child support in New York is applied up to a combined family income of $148,000. After that point, there is no set formula that must be used to determine the amount of child support to be paid from income over that cap. In New York City, however, courts have set a cap as high as $800,000 for the income that can be considered for high-income and high net worth families.
Once the family income exceeds the CSSA cap, the court has discretion when it comes to setting child support and must consider additional factors which include:
- How far over the cap the family income is, whether the bulk of that income comes from the custodial or non-custodial parent
- The tax consequences that will result from increased support
- Any special needs the child may have which includes learning disabilities, educational needs, medical conditions, emotional needs, and others
- The non-financial child care contributions each parent makes
- How allowing or disallowing the income above the cap to be considered will impact the child's lifestyle
- Educational needs of either parent
- Other child support paid by either parent for children outside of the marriage
- Extraordinary expenses associated with visitation for the non-custodial parent that reduce the costs the custodial parent faces, such as through extended visitation
- Any other factors the court deems to relevant
Since the court has a lot of discretion, it's important to work with an attorney who is experienced in handling child support cases for high income families and who is familiar with the arguments that must be made to convince the court to rule in your favor.
Child Support Add-Ons
In addition to the calculated child support payment, the court can mandate payment of:
- Health insurance for the child
- Unreimbursed medical expenses for the child
- Child care expenses, which are applied pro rata
- Education costs (including tutoring, tuition, fees, school supplies, and uniforms)
- Extra-curricular expenses (including private lessons, sports, music, school clubs, arts, and more)
These are expenses that are not covered by child support, and the court can direct payment of all or a percentage of these costs by the non-custodial parent. The court is interested in the child's lifestyle before the divorce and will be interested in ensuring that that level of lifestyle continues after the divorce.
If a child took violin lessons, attended SAT tutoring, and played soccer before the divorce, the court would likely want those activities to continue and would likely require the non-custodial parent to contribute to their costs.
In New York state, child support continues until the child is age 21 (even if the child is away at college); however, you can expect that college costs will be a separate part of your child support order. In New York, college costs are not an automatic part of child support, but for a high income family, it is nearly certain that they will be included. In determining payment for college costs, the court is allowed to consider what is in the child's best interests as well as the family's circumstances when making that decision.
To determine college costs, New York courts use a rule called the SUNY cap. In general, parental responsibility for college costs will jointly be capped at the expense of a degree through a State University of New York (“SUNY”) state school. One challenge with this rule is that each SUNY school has its own tuition rate, so there is no one set price for a SUNY education.
If the SUNY cap is used, it's important that the court states the period for which the SUNY amount will be calculated since college costs rise over time, and the cost of a degree today is likely much less than the price of a degree will be in five years. Of course, your child may choose to go to a private New York school or go out of state. A child support award can accommodate tuition at private colleges and universities and usually is set up so that a percentage of the actual cost is assigned to each parent.
If the child goes away to school, a credit called Rohr's credit can be applied to the non-custodial parent's child support payments to deduct the amount that parent pays for room and board from the amount due for child support. This is an attempt to compensate for the fact that while the child is away at school, the custodial parent does not have to pay to house, feed, and support the child under their own roof and that the non-custodial parent is paying to support the child while at school instead.
If you have 529 (college savings) accounts set up, how these will be handled must also be determined by the court. The court could order that those funds should be used first for college before the parents make any contributions. If one parent contributed funds that were separate property (such as from an inheritance) to a 529 account, the court could hold that the funds in that account apply on a dollar to dollar basis to that parent's obligation for college costs.
Modifications to Child Support
Once your child support order is entered, it is final. However, you will have the opportunity to request modification of the order in three situations:
- There has been a substantial change in circumstances. This could be a change in either parent's income, additional children outside the marriage, or a change in the child's needs.
- Three years since the order was entered. After three years, you can ask for a review and modification of the order.
- A change in either parent's income. If either parent's income has involuntarily increased or decreased by at least 15%, the case can be reexamined.
Child support is a complex calculation, and because there are so many factors the court can weigh, it's crucial to work with a firm that understands the nuances high net worth families have available to them in this computation.