In Connecticut, both parents are obligated to support their children. When parents divorce or otherwise part, child support obligations are calculated according to the Connecticut Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines. The guidance in place for high income earners – who are defined as parents with a combined net income of more than $4,000 per week – is derived from the Connecticut Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Guidelines.
How is child support calculated in Connecticut?
In determining child support, Connecticut uses the “Income Shares Model.” This means that courts estimate the amount parents would spend on their children if both parents and children lived together in one intact household, and then divide this amount between the two parents based on their respective incomes.
To arrive at the total support figure, the court will use the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations table. For instance, according to the table, parents with a net weekly income of $2,000 would be expected to spend 15.95%, or $319, of that income total on one child or 23.70%, or $474, for two children. For parents with a combined net weekly income of $4,000, the basic child support figure would be 12.04%, or $482, for one child and 17.71%, or $708, for two children.
Let’s say parents of one child have a net weekly income of $4,000 between them. One parent earns $3,000, or 75% of that total, and the other parent earns $1,000, or 25%. The parent earning 75% of the net income would be responsible for 75% of the total obligation of $482 – or $361.50. The remaining $120.50 would be the responsibility of the parent earning 25% of the total net income. When one parent has physical custody, the noncustodial parent will pay his or her share to the custodial parent to spend on the child.
What about when combined net weekly income exceeds $4,000?
The formula for determining child support is different for parents netting more than $4,000 in income per week. Absent unusual circumstances, the minimum child support amount allowable for parents in this income category is $482 for one child – the basic child support amount corresponding to $4,000 in net income. The maximum is determined by using the applicable percentages for one, two, three children, etc. at the $4,000 income level and multiplying those percentages by the parents’ actual combined net income. Therefore, for parents of one child with a net income of $6,000, the maximum child support amount, absent unusual circumstances, would be 12.04% of $6,000, or $722. For parents with one child who earn $6,000 per week, the court has the discretion to arrive at a basic child support amount anywhere between $482 and $722. Each parent’s individual obligation would then be determined by divvying up that tally based on the parents’ percent contributions to the total income.
What will the court look at when determining the child support amount within that range?
For high income earners, the court will arrive at the basic child support figure on a case-by-case basis. The magistrate or trial judge will consider evidence submitted by the parties regarding actual past and projected child expenditures.
The goal is to ensure that children are not deprived of the resources they would have received if their parents had remained an intact couple. The analysis of what those resources would amount to is especially challenging when the two parents were never an intact couple in the first place.
What is included/excluded in the income calculations?
Child support guidelines are based on the combined net income of both parents, which equals gross income minus allowable deductions. Gross income includes most types of income, including wages, commissions, bonuses, self-employment income, rental income, dividend or interest income, workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance benefits and income from a pension or retirement account.
In addition to income taxes, certain other expenses are deducted from gross income, including health insurance premiums and court-ordered alimony or court-ordered child support paid for other dependents.
What about education and extracurricular expenses?
In divorces involving high income earners, sometimes the court will order the higher income parent to pay for private elementary or high school for the child. Whether private school tuition should be part of child support or in addition to it is determined on a case-by-case basis.
When the child engages in extracurricular activities such as travel, sports or music lessons, often the child support order will state that in addition to the standard child support, the extracurricular activities will be divided among the two parents in whatever manner the court deems fair.
Child support obligations typically end when a child who has finished high school turns 18, or when a full-time high school student turns 19. College costs, therefore, are not part of child support and are covered under a separate statute. If the court finds the two parents would have sent the child to college had they remained an intact family, the court can order either or both parents to contribute to tuition, room and board, books and healthcare, but only up to the amount charged by the University of Connecticut. Therefore, if the child goes to a more expensive university, the court cannot order the parents to pay up to that level, unless the two parents, as often happens, agree to be bound by such orders.
What if parental income changes over time?
Child support orders can be modified at any point until the child becomes an adult. If one of the parties has a change in income that would result in at least a 15 percent decrease or increase in the basic child support figure, that is considered a substantial change in circumstance, which is grounds for the award to be lessened or increased accordingly.
If you are seeking to modify an existing child support order or prevent an order from being modified, or if you are planning a divorce or expecting a child out of wedlock, contact the Connecticut family law attorneys at Ruel Ruel Burns Feldman & Britt as early in the process as possible, at 860-206-9096.