Important Update (2023): Starting from June 1, 2023, there will be a modification to the calculation of child support in Alabama for parents who have joint physical custody. Get the full details here.
People are familiar with child support and the obligation of both parents to support their children. The goal of child support is to benefit the children.
Parents often do not realize that child support was designed to give children, not the parent with whom the child lives or the custodial parent, a basic standard of living and to prevent any child from becoming a public charge.
Parents may wonder, How is child support calculated in Alabama? Pursuant to Alabama law, the court applies a specific formula to make child support determinations, accounting for income, deductions, and other special circumstances. This way of calculating child support is sometimes referred to as “formulaic” child support or “guidelines” child support.
Charlotte Christian Law provides strong advocacy for parents seeking an award of fair and proper child support, which we consider to be both parents.
Whether for an initial support order, modification of an existing support order, enforcement of an Alabama support order, or an out-of-state support order, we can be of assistance. We also advocate for parents in support matters requiring a preliminary paternity determination.
Our Alabama family attorneys will develop the right strategy to ensure that your children receive the financial support they deserve, that is fair to both parents and the circumstances of the case.
Below, the Alabama child support lawyers at Charlotte Christian Law go over the details of how child support in Alabama is calculated. If you have questions, please call us at (256) 859-7277 or contact us online.
What is the Alabama Child Support Formula?
Many parents wonder how to calculate child support in Alabama. In Alabama, child support is calculated according to Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration.
To calculate the value of the support, the state provides a formula based on each spouse’s income, deductions, childcare costs, and health insurance premiums.
Alabama has no easy calculator to help you estimate your potential child support payments. However, the state does have a form, CS-42, which allows you to compute support based on the guidelines.
Calculate Gross Income
How much is child support in Alabama? The first step in answering this question is to figure out each parent’s income under the guidelines.
Income, as defined in the rule, includes income from any source, such as:
- Salaries and wages,
- Severance pay and pensions,
- Trust income,
- Annuities and capital gains,
- Social Security benefits,
- Workers’ compensation benefits,
- Unemployment insurance benefits,
- Disability insurance and benefits,
- Gifts and prizes, or
- Pre-existing periodic alimony.
Gross income for child support calculations also includes self-employment income.
But there are factors that should not be used when calculating a parent’s income for child support purposes.
These factors include the following:
- Child support received for the parent’s other children not involved in this action,
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
- Supplemental Security Income,
- Food stamps, and
- Governmental assistance or welfare.
For the most part, public assistance benefits someone receives because their income is at or near the poverty line are excluded from the income calculation for child support.
Adjust Income with Specific Legal Deductions
The next step in calculating child support is to adjust the calculated gross income. For the purposes of Alabama child support calculations, gross income is not reduced by any income tax withholdings. Instead, the Alabama child support guidelines set forth several specific permitted deductions.
The gross income calculation of each parent is reduced by the following:
- Pre-existing child support obligations that are not involved in this calculation, and
- Pre-existing alimony obligations a parent is paying.
There is no consideration of debt or other financial obligations of either parent when calculating their adjusted gross income for child support.
Then, add together the adjusted gross monthly income of each parent. This is called the combined parental income. For example, if the father’s adjusted income is $3,000 a month, and the mother’s adjusted gross income is $2,000, then the combined parental income is $5,000.
Then, you must determine the percentage of the combined income that’s attributable to each parent. In the example above, the percentage of the $5,000 attributed is 60% to the father and, 40% to the mother. We’ll call that the “pro-rata” share of each parent.
Look at Alabama’s Child Support Schedule
Next, you’ll need Alabama’s current Schedule of Basic Child-Support Obligations. This chart has a list of monthly combined incomes and their corresponding child support obligation. This is an amount the state has determined a child needs for basic support.
You’ll then need to apply each parent’s percentage to the appropriate child support amount. For example, suppose the total monthly child support amount is $1,000. In the example above, if the father’s percentage is 60%, his child support obligation would be $600. This is also referred to as each person’s pro-rata share of child support.
Deduct Costs and Expenses
Next, the child support guidelines allow you to deduct certain expenses and costs from your potential child support obligation. You can deduct the additional monthly costs of employment-related childcare and health insurance premiums for the child from your support amount.
For example, let’s say you spend $600 a month on childcare for when you are at work. Your pro-rata share of the child support obligation above is $800 per month. You can deduct the $600 from your share, making your total obligation $200 per month in this scenario.
There can be slight changes, such as when a father pays the entire health insurance premium for the children. A court may accordingly reduce his support obligation by the mother’s pro-rata share of that payment.
There is a presumption that the custodial parent pays their share “in-house” on the children, so no support order is made for the custodial parent.
Income Variations and Self-Support Reserve
Sometimes, a parent’s income is so low that they’re unable to pay for their own basic necessities, let alone their child’s. You may wonder, How is child support calculated in Alabama for those with very low incomes? Alabama’s child support guidelines have what’s called a self-support reserve. The self-support reserve is an amount of money that the state has determined every person needs to meet their basic needs. Currently, this is $981 per month.
In calculating child support, you’ll subtract the self-support reserve from your income, and multiply the difference by 85%. If the remaining amount is less than the child support calculation above, then you’ll be responsible for the lower amount. However, the minimum child support order, regardless of the self-support reserve, is $50 per month.
A court does have the discretion to vary from the formula. An instance of this would be if the combined parental monthly income is below $500 or above $10,000, which is the income range covered by the guidelines. For those receiving public assistance, for example, a court can grant a zero-dollar child support order for them. For those with extremely high incomes, a court can use its discretion in determining the proper child support obligation.
Calculating Child Support for the Unemployed in Alabama
If a parent is unemployed or under-employed without a legitimate basis, or for the purpose of avoiding child support obligations, the court will calculate that parent’s income at their income-earning capacity. This goes both ways.
The court will not tolerate unemployment or under-employment if the parent is trying to avoid their obligations to support their child. Nor will a court tolerate any effort to place more burden on the other parent by intentional reduction of income.
Child support laws generally assume that the parent with whom the child lives most of the time bears more of the financial burden than the other parent and makes adjustments based on this assumption. But when parents share equal or near equal custody, this can become complicated.
For this purpose, equal or near equal custody does not mean that one parent has a typical visitation schedule. Instead, this means both parents have a substantial amount of time with the children, close to and including a 50/50 custody arrangement.
Under current Alabama law, where parents share custody 50/50, the child support obligation is calculated for both parents; the higher obligation is reduced by the lower obligation, and the balance becomes the child support obligation of the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.
However, new Alabama child support laws attempt to streamline the process of figuring out child support in a shared custody arrangement. The parents calculate child support as if they don’t have joint custody. They receive several credits and deductions. Then, after all of these calculations, the parent with the higher child support amount pays that amount to the other parent.
For anything other than 50/50 custody, the court uses its discretion to determine the fair and just amount of support, under those circumstances, using the guidelines as a starting point. There are other bases for variation which would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Calculating Child Support for the Self-Employed
For those that are self-employed, the court has a different way of calculating gross income. Be careful not to assume that Alabama courts will allow the same deductions as the IRS. They will not. Instead, you may have very few deductions and a much higher gross income than you would for tax purposes. You should speak with an attorney for more information on your obligation if you are self-employed.
Get in Contact With a Child Support Lawyer in Alabama Today
Whether you are unemployed, self-employed, or employed, our divorce and family lawyers can help. We have family attorneys in Huntsville, Athens, and Birmingham who know Alabama child support laws and can handle out-of-state child support enforcement issues.