A. Child Support Guidelines
Michigan is legally required to adopt Uniform Child Support Guidelines in order to obtain Federal funds to defray the cost of operating the child welfare system. The Court is required to presume that the amount of support under the guidelines is correct. You can access the manual used by the Friend of the Court to determine child support here. This manual calculates support based upon number of children, number of overnights, and each of the parent’s income. The amount under the formula is affected by several factors health insurance cost; which parent takes the dependency deduction on income taxes and whether there are any child care expenses. Normally child support is calculated as an amount due for child support plus an amount due for contribution to medical insurance premiums and an additional contribution for any child care expense.
B. No Retroactive Modification
Several aspects of the statutes governing child support are inherently unfair and require the parties’ diligence to prevent an unjust result. By way of example, MCLA 552.603 states that each payment of support is considered the same as a Judgment at the time that it is due and is not subject to “retroactive modification”. What this means is that regardless of whether it is fair, a child support order remains in effect until it is changed by the Court. If you were to take full custody of your children when there is a child support order in effect for you to pay the other parent, that order remains in effect until you file a motion with the Court to change it. On more than one occasion, I have met with parents who have been the sole support of their children who face staggering arrearages in child support because they failed to obtain a new court order acknowledging the change of custody or parenting time. Most courts have forms you can file without an attorney to make these necessary changes. If dealt with immediately, at the time of the change of custody, with agreement of both parties, you can save literally thousands in future attorney fees.
While it is possible to deviate from the child support formula, it is difficult to do so. The Michigan Child Support Formula manual lists 18 factors which can be used by the Court. All of the factors are based upon the basic principal that the strict application of the formula may produce an unjust or inappropriate result such as in cases where a child has special needs or extraordinary educational expenses or when a parent does not have the ability to pay the child support based upon the fact that they have agreed to be responsible for jointly accumulated debt. These factors are listed as Section 1.04(E) of the Michigan Child Support Formula Manuel.
D. Imputation of Income
The Friend of the Court has the ability to impute income to a party who is not currently earning up to their full potential. Under these situations, the Court is basically ignoring the fact that one parent earns very little or nothing and presumes that they have the ability to work and earn at a certain income level. The factors the Court considers are:
- Prior employment experience and history, including reasons for any termination or changes of employment.
- Physical and mental disabilities that may affect a parent’s ability to obtain or maintain gainful employment.
- Availability for work (hospitalization, incarceration, debilitating illness, etc.).
- Availability of opportunities to work in the local geographic area.
- The prevailing wage rates in the local geographical area.
- Diligence exercised in seeking appropriate employment.
- Evidence that the parent in question is able to earn the imputed income.
- Personal history, including present marital status and present means of support.
- The presence of the parties’ children in the parents’ home and its impact on that parent’s earnings.
- Whether there has been a significant reduction in income compared to the period that preceded the filing of the initial complaint and its impact on that parent’s earnings.