Alabama Child Support Guidelines: Parents who are divorcing or, in some cases, parents who have actually never married their children’s other parent and are separating should understand child support obligations. Both parents, regardless of their marital status, have a legal responsibility to support their children financially. The AL Child Support Guidelines provide very clear instructions for determining the financial responsibilities of single, separated, or divorced parents and for ensuring that parents meet their obligations and pay their child support as calculated. These rules are often confusing to some people, therefore, any parent who is experiencing difficulty with understanding the child support guidelines and calculations should contact a family law attorney for assistance.
Alabama courts in ordering child support follow the “Income Shares Model” which assesses the total amount that parents would likely spend on the children’s needs, and then the calculation divides that amount proportionately between the parent–according to their incomes; consequently, the parent with the larger income is responsible for a larger percentage of support. The basic support amounts and the rules for dividing amounts between parents are set out in the Alabama Child Support Guidelines. See Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration and the pertinent child support documents and schedules, including the Child-Support-Obligation Income Statement/Affidavit (Form CS- 41), Child-Support Guidelines worksheet (Form CS-42) and Basic Child-Support Obligation Schedule.
Parents who have parenting arrangements that give one of them sole physical custody of the children and the other is a noncustodial parent who follows a standard visitation schedule can assess the noncustodial parent’s child support obligation by completing Forms CS-41 and CS-42. The noncustodial parent is the only parent responsible for paying support because Alabama courts deduce that the custodial parent’s portion is already directly being used in meeting the children’s basic needs.
Alabama Child Support Guidelines: The Calculations
The first step to calculating child support is to determine each parent’s monthly gross income. Gross income generally includes all income, regardless of the source—before taxes and other deductions. Review the instructions for Form CS-41 for the definition of the types of “incomes” that will be included as income for each parent. Some incomes, however, are excluded, such as public assistance benefits and child support received for children from other relationships. However, parents paying court-ordered child support or alimony from other relationships can deduct those payments from their gross incomes to compute their adjusted gross incomes.
To calculate the basic child support figure, one has to add both parents’ adjusted gross incomes and match that total amount with the column for the applicable number of children in the Basic Child-Support Obligation Schedule. For example, if the total adjusted gross income for the parents is $5,200.00, the basic child support amount for one child would be $781.00 according to the schedule.
Next, to determine each parent’s percentage share of the support amount 0f $781.00 one divides each parent’s income by the total combined income. For example, if the noncustodial parent earns $2,500.00 a month, and the custodial parent earns $2,700.00 a month, the noncustodial parent would be responsible for 48% of the $781.00 support amount (2,500 divided by 5,200) and the custodial parent would be responsible for 52% of the $781.00 support amount (2,700 divided by 5,200).
However, before applying these percentages to the basic child support amount, a court will add child care costs that either parent has to pay in order to work, as well as the cost of health insurance for the children. Those amounts will be calculated into the formula (See Form CS-42). Using with the example and information above, if health insurance for one child is $125.00 per month and the custodial parent spends $325 per month for work-related child care, the total support obligation would be $1,185.00 ($781.00 + $125.00 + $325.00 = $1,231.00). This total multiplied by 48% is $640.00, which is what the noncustodial parent would pay to the custodial parent each month. If the non-custodial parent provides the insurance or pays the child care expenses, that amount would be deducted from the calculated child support amount. The completion of a Form CS-41 will assist parents with calculating child support or if they retain an attorney, he or she can assist them.
DEVIATIONS FROM THE ALABAMA CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES
In certain situations, courts may decide not to follow the guideline amount of child support according to the schedules mentioned above. For example, if parents have joint physical custody, or any parenting arrangement where they spend significantly more than the standard amount of visitation time with the children, the guideline calculation will only give you a starting point. Alabama law does not provide for a standard method of adjusting child support in such situations, but courts typically deviate from the guidelines to take the noncustodial parent’s increased parenting time into account. Because so many possible variations in custody arrangements exist, Alabama judges retain the authority to determine, at their discretion, the proper amount of child support on a case- by-case basis—especially when an exact application of the guidelines would be unfair or inappropriate. Courts may also make adjustments when parents have either an extremely low or an elevated high income. A court that orders support in an amount that differs from the guideline amount must specify the reasons for doing so in writing. If the child support is a term in an uncontested divorce, a CS-43 (Notice of Compliance) must be filed with the court to explain the deviation from Rule 32.
An Alabama Court May Impute a Parent’s Income
Unfortunately, some parents fail to “do right” and attempt to avoid their child support obligation by quitting a job or failing to pursue employment opportunities and availabilities. For example, one parent might quit a good paying job to take a lower paying position under the erroneous belief that this “step down” will relieve him or her of calculated child support payments. Courts are not likely to tolerate this behavior. If a court believes that either parent willingly became unemployed–or underemployed–the court will, in all probability, estimate the income that parent “could” potentially earn with reasonable efforts, and the court will calculate the child support based on that amount, NOT the lower wages. In addition, the court will evaluate the parent’s recent work history, education, and occupational qualifications and will also take into account the existing job opportunities and earning levels within the community. If a parent is un-employed, the court normally will impute that parent’s income using the current minimum wage amount for a forty-hour work week. Currently, that amount is calculated as $1,257.00 monthly.
Child Support Modification and Termination
Once a court has issued a child support order, a parent who desires to modify that order must show a substantial and continuing change in circumstances. Some examples of changes of circumstances which could justify a child support modification would be one parent’s receiving a much higher salary or one of the parent’s making a permanent change in the number of days per week that he or she spends with a child or children. Courts will generally propose that a modification is applicable if the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new examination of the facts and the application of the current guidelines varies by more than 10%. This percentage is not always applied, however, and even a 10% variation will not always justify a change in the support order.
Child support in Alabama terminates when a child reaches the age of 19–unless a court determines a child to be emancipated before that age.
Enforcement of the Child Support Agreement or Order
The Child Support Enforcement Division of the Alabama Department of Human Resources (CSED) is accountable for helping families acquire child support payment orders; locate absent parents; establish paternity, if necessary; and secure compliance with court orders related to child support. If a child’s parent has stopped making child support payments, or he or she is not making full payments on time, the custodial parent should contact a lawyer or the CSED for assistance in enforcing the child support order in effect. This information is also pertinent to uncontested divorces in which the parties’ have agreed upon child support and said support is noted in the judge’s order.