What is Child Support?
Child support in Missouri is a monthly payment of money from one parent to the other parent of a child to help pay for expenses of the child. In Missouri, child support is established in one of two ways, administratively through the State or through a Court case. If support is set up through the State of Missouri, then custody will not be part of the process. If support is set up through Court, then child custody can be part of the process.
Child support financially affects your life. It is important to really gain an understanding of the process as soon as you are aware it will become an issue in your life. Once you have a firm understanding of how support is negotiated and established, you can put yourself in the best position to achieve a fair child support amount.
What is the Difference Between A State Case and a Court Case for Custody?
Many clients are confused before they come into the office regarding the difference between a state case and a Court case. Any parent can ask for DNA testing and to establish a child support order for free through the State of Missouri. This is known as an “administrative” or “state” case. This is not an actual Court case and does not establish any child custody.
The Missouri Family Support Division receives many requests to begin child support. The first step they take is setting up DNA testing, if necessary, to establish who the Father is. Either parent can request the testing. Once the Father is verified, the Family Support Division will request documents from both parties regarding their finances, wages, taxes, child care, etc.
After receiving paperwork from both parties, the Family Support Division will calculate a proposed child support amount and send it to the parents. If no one requests a hearing, then the child support amount is ordered and the State begins collecting from the paying parent’s wages.
Did You Mention That Setting Up Support Is Free?
Yes, it is free, but setting up child support through the State has both benefits and drawbacks. The major benefit is that the process is free, so anyone can start receiving support without having to come up with the money for a lawyer. The process can also be good for the parent the child lives with because they can set up a support order, without having to address custody.
However, there are also drawbacks. For starters, the State case will not address custody so the parents will still have to go to Court at some point if they want to figure out a custody schedule and cannot do so on their own. The State process also takes awhile, sometimes as long as 12-18 months. In particular, if one of the parties is not responding to mail or cannot be tracked down, then the process can be very long. The child support amount also will not include credit for the paying parent for any custody time they have, so the amount will likely be higher than if they open a Court case.
What is Child Support through the Court System?
If you determine that the State route is not the route for you, then the other way child support is negotiated and set up is through a Court case. There are two main types of cases that deal with child support, which are divorces and paternity cases. Very simply, divorces are when married couples have kids and end their marriage, and a paternity case is when two people who are not married have a kid. There are a couple other routes, that support can be dealt with such as through an Order of Protection, but divorce and paternity are the primary case types.
Whether divorce or paternity, child support is calculated and put in place at some point during the case or at the end of the case. It is not uncommon for child support to be ordered at the end of a case, but to be ordered retroactively. This means that the paying parent will have to pay the child support amount for all the months that have passed back to the filing date of the Court case.
Child support can also be ordered during a case, as a temporary or interim order. This can be done through a consent order agreed to by the parties or by filing a Pendente Lite Motion (PDL). A PDL Motion asks the Court to establish temporary orders regarding custody and support during the case, so that the parties do not have to wait until the end of the case. This is very important in high conflict cases that may not be resolved for 12 to 18 months.
How to Calculate Child Support in Missouri?
In Missouri, support is decided what is known as the Form 14. Form 14 is the form that the State has created to come to a fair and accurate child support amount in family law cases. In any family law case, a Form 14 must be completed to determine the presumed support amount. Once the presumed amount is figured, the Court can either accept and order that amount, or find that amount unfair and order a different amount.
While the Form 14 was designed to simplify and standardize the child support amount that is ordered, it is not necessarily that simple. There are many quirks to the Form and the numbers that are plugged into the chart are of course open to negotiation and discussion.
The idea behind the Form 14 is that a child’s basic needs can be met by the number that the Form reaches. Ideally, the chart allows a child to maintain the same standard of living as if the parents were still together.
Clients often ask, “why should I have to pay child support to my ex if we have equal custody?” The reason is that if one party makes more than the other, that the child or children deserve to maintain that same standard of living as if the parents had stayed together. In the Court’s eyes, a child should not be punished just because parents cannot work out their difficulties.
What Are The Factors of a Form 14 that Help Determine Child Support?
As we mentioned, the Form 14 plugs in a bunch of numbers and spits out a number. Those different numbers are the factors that help determine child support. These factors include:
- The number of children
- The amount of child support paid for children of a previous marriage
- The incomes of both parents
- The amount of any spousal support award
- The cost of health insurance
- The cost of childcare
- The amount of overnight visits the paying parent has with the child
Some of these factors, such as health insurance, are fairly straightforward. The cost, such as the monthly cost of health insurance, is plugged into the appropriate spot on the chart. The only thing that can really complicate those straightforward factors is not getting the necessary documentation for your attorney. If you put in the legwork to get accurate figures, then it will benefit you in the end so that the attorneys drafting the Form 14 are not guessing costs.
Some of the factors are not quite as simple. Income, for example, can be quite disputed during a case, and rightfully so, as income can have a big effect on the presumed support amount. Income includes income from various sources, including your regular wages, overtime wages, bonuses, disability payments to a parent, and military benefits. Some of these are discretionary, which means the Judge can decide whether to include it, such as bonuses. For example, regular bonuses received every year are much more likely to be included in income than a one-time bonus.
The determination of income can be argued even more specifically when we discuss what your wages actually are. Some Judges want to look at the last three years of tax returns. Some Judges want to look at what you have made year to date. There is no set formula that all Judges use. The only thing Judges must comply with are the Missouri Form 14 Directions, which give quite a bit of discretion to the Judge for your case.
Another hotly contested issue when composing a Form14 is the overnight credit. This credit obviously overlaps with the child custody portion of the case and gives relief to a parent who is paying support and also handling a good chunk of custody. The overnight obviously also provides financial benefit to requesting as much custody as possible if you are the paying parent. In the end, though, it is important to separate financial motivations from what is truly the best custody plan for your children.
A big factor that many people do not pay close enough attention to is child care. Be very careful when picking out your child’s daycare provider, as the cost will likely be plugged into the chart. If the provider is expensive, then it is not uncommon for that factor to cause the biggest jump in the overall child support amount. An expensive daycare may add $500 to $1500 to your monthly child support payment.
Do You Have to Use the Form 14?
Yes and No. The Form 14 must be completed in all cases that establish child support. The Form 14 must determine the “presumed child support amount” for the Court. Missouri law requires the Form 14 be completed and attached to your Judgment in all cases. The Court of Appeals will even reverse your case if a Form 14 is not included.
However, even though the Form 14 has to be completed and included in the Judgment, the child support number it produces does not have to be the number that is ordered. The Court can find the child support amount to be “unjust or inappropriate.” If the Court finds this then it can order any child support amount the Court thinks is appropriate.
Another common topic in child support cases is the dependency exemption. In Missouri, the exemption is built into the Form 14 which assumes the parent receiving child support also receives the exemptions. So, if your case is Court-tried, it is very common for the Judges to award the dependency exemptions to the receiving parent. However, it is not uncommon for the parties to agree to split the exemption when a case is settled and they are allowed to do so.
For the very savvy family, you can also sit down with your accountant and figure out who would benefit more from the exemptions and then award it to that parent. The child support amount could then be adjusted to help the other parent who would not be receiving the benefit. This would require though that a family work together while going through litigation, which happens but unfortunately is rare.
Also, child support does not count as income. It is not taxable. It is not tax-deductible.
How Does Losing My Job Affect Child Support?
If you lose your job during a Court case, then it can definitely have an effect. If child support has already been established in the past then you would potentially need to file a Motion to Modify Child Support to request a child support modification. If child support has not been established yet and you are still trying to resolve your original Court case, then the big question the Judge will have is why you lost your job.
If you lost your job for a reason outside your control, then you are much more likely to receive some sympathy from the Judge. If you lost your job because you like to take naps
under your desk during work hours, then the Judge may be less sympathetic, unless of course your case is assigned to a Judge that likes to nap!
Another thing the Judge might look at is what you are capable of earning. It is not uncommon for a party going through litigation to stay underemployed or to purposefully change jobs to try and lower their income for child support purposes.
Quitting your job during a case can backfire because the Court is allowed to impute a parent at whatever income they think is appropriate. Impute means the Judge can determine you are capable of making a certain amount of money and use that amount for your current income in the Form 14 even though you are not actually making that money currently.
If a case really becomes contested, then one party could hire a vocational expert to examine the other party to determine their vocational abilities and potential income. This can be a beneficial tool, if you can afford it, to spoon-feed the Court the information they need to determine the other parent’s potential income.
What Are Child Support Payment Methods?
Once the child support order has been established, whether temporary or final, and whether through the State of the Court system, then the child support needs to be paid. The typical payment method is through a wage withholding which acts just likes it sounds – it withholds money from your wages. If someone does not work a standard job, then support can be paid through the Missouri Family Support Payment Center. If a case is resolved amicably through settlement, then parties also have the option of agreeing to direct payment from one parent to the other, but that method is becoming less used. Direct payments are not always the best path anyway, as paying through the State creates a trustworthy record of payments in case a payment is very disputed by either parent.
Some paying parents are worried about how a wage withholding might appear to their employer. However, there is no need to worry. Hundreds of thousands of wage withholdings are in existence and most employers are not going to think twice about it.
Just try not to fall behind on support. There can be serious consequences for falling behind on your child support, including criminal charges if you fall far enough behind. The State of Missouri could also revoke your driver’s license at a certain point, which does not help matters. If you start to fall behind, address the problem sooner than later and you will be in much better shape.
The Use of Child Support
As lawyers, we are often told that child support is not going to the children or that an ex is using child support to spend on herself. At times that is true. However, you need to look at all of the children’s expenses including the need for housing, utilities and transportation. Unless those bills are not being paid or a child is not being fed, then it is nearly impossible to show that the support is being misused.
What is Covered and Not Covered Under Child Support?
You also have to separate the items that are not covered under child support, which includes schooling costs and extracurricular activities. Child support is for the necessities – food, housing, clothes, etc. The standard Parenting Plan is going to address extra expenses such as karate lessons separately and have the parents each pay a portion of these expenses outside of child support. If you have joint legal custody, then this cost will obviously need to be agreed upon prior to registering the child and incurring the cost.
When Does Child Support End in Missouri?
Most parents paying child support feel like it will never end. Most parents receiving support hope that it never will end. However, child support in Missouri does end at a very specific time. If a child turns 18 and does not register for college by the October 1st following his or her 18th birthday, then child support ends. If a child does go to college then child support ends at age 21 whether they are done with school or not. And, child support terminates at one of those two times whether the child still lives at home or not. Child support in Missouri can also terminate even if a child goes to college if a child does not take at least 12 hours of college credits and pass more than half of those credit hours. A child who enters the military also causes an immediate end to child support. No matter which side you are on, child support will end.
Speaking of college, can you pay your kid directly when they get to college? That is a fair question. The answer is maybe. You are allowed to file a Motion to Modify to request that payments go directly to the child. Some Judges will grant the request and some will not. However, you will need to balance the cost of the filing a new case with the value of accomplishing the goal.
Can Child Support in Missouri Be Extended?
It is also important to mention that child support can in rare circumstances be extended past 21 years of age, and these circumstances generally involve a child with medical issues so severe that they cannot support themselves anytime soon. This extension would also be requested through the Court, ideally prior to the child’s 21st birthday.
How Can an Attorney Help the Situation?
Maybe they can and maybe they can’t. Most good lawyers know the ins and outs of the Form 14. For example, a St. Louis Child Support Lawyer such as one of the attorneys at our firm can tell you that if you have exactly equal custody, or 183 overnights each year with your child, that you are likely going to receive a 34% overnight credit on the Form 14 from almost all of the Judges in St. Louis County. While the Judges all have the option to award anywhere from a 34%-50% credit to a paying parent with equal custody, the informal standard is still to award the 34% credit. However, if you have the option to file your case in St. Louis City, then the Judges down there have been more likely in recent years to consider a 50% overnight credit. Without an attorney, you would not have this direct knowledge on your side.
You also should keep in mind that most Court cases addressing child support are also probably addressing child custody at the very least, and potentially property issues and maintenance if it is a divorce case. These issues can all interplay with each other, so if you are proceeding without an attorney then you should make sure to educate yourself.
By speaking with a St. Louis child support attorney you are taking the first step toward finding financial security for your family. We have often been child support lawyers for fathers. We have often been child support lawyers for mothers. We are just happy to help. If you want to discuss your child support situation, please feel free to give us a call.