As a parent getting a divorce in New York, your children are bound to be your number one concern.
And they should be.
You love your kids and want the world for them. So now that you're facing divorce, how do you make sure they get the financial support they need in order to live healthy and happy lives?
That’s where child support comes in.
But there's a lot more to child support in New York than you might think.
What is The Purpose of Child Support?
You might think the purpose of child support is to ensure that the financial needs of your children are being met by you and your soon-to-be ex spouse.
But it's important to understand that child support is about more than just money.
While it's true that child support is designed to ensure your children's financial well-being, that's only half of it.
Divorce is hard on your children. And the conflict and stress can really take a toll on them. Soon you'll no longer be husband and wife, but you’ll always be mom and dad.
Child support also shows your kids you still love them and care about their well-being, too.
There are a few things you need to know about the challenges of determining child support in NY State:
While there is a child support guideline, it's not as comprehensive as it should be, it doesn’t include all the expenses required to raise a child, and it isn’t applicable in all situations.
Due to the global pandemic in 2020, income was impacted for millions of individuals, with economic uncertainty likely to continue well into 2021.
Due to the Covid-19 Relief Bill, the Child Tax Credit was increased from $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child, but only for 2021. Because of this, the amount of child support you agree to pay or receive in 2021 may be different than in 2022, and beyond.
The Child Tax Credit is now refundable for people who have no income, and may now benefit both parties. Whereas in the past, it may have only benefitted one. This complicates conversations around who will claim the children on their tax return for tax year 2021.
Not only has the maximum Child Care Credit been increased in both percentage and dollar amount, but unlike years before, if you don't owe any tax, you can still receive a payment from the government of up to $8,000 depending on expenses incurred.
There is talk of Congress extending these changes and making them permanent. But if you’re getting divorced in 2021, you need to decide now, how (or if) these changes will impact the determination of child support in future years.
This topic has less to do with laws and more to do with money, negotiation and doing what’s best for your kids.
There is more than meets the eye on this issue and in the majority of cases, this subject is much too complex for you to try to resolve on your own.
That's why you will get the best result by mediating with us.
"Most parents think the child support guidelines output a specific dollar amount and that’s that. But the reality is the guidelines are just a starting point for negotiations.
Plus, there are a lot of "add-on" expenses not covered by the basic child support amount.
That's why the best way to come to a fair agreement and ensure your children get the financial support they need is to mediate your NY divorce and work with an experienced mediator like me so you can make decisions as parents that are in your children's best interests."
The child support guideline in New York is not as comprehensive as it should be.
The Federal government requires all 50 states to have a systematic way by which to determine a basic child support obligation. So every state including New York has a child support guideline. But the way child support is determined varies from state-to-state.
Some states use a simple percentage-based formula. You’d simply take a share of the supporting party’s income and give it to the other party and you’re done.
While other states are more comprehensive and attempt to factor in things like both of your incomes, the ages of your children, the number of overnights they spend with each of you, which one of you pays for their health insurance, who takes them as a tax deduction, and more.
But in New York, things work a bit differently.
Determining child support in New York is a very tricky proposition.
Let’s take a closer look at how child support is calculated in New York as the NY child support model doesn’t fit cleanly into either of the models described above.
To begin, the guideline would calculate what each of your net incomes are.
Well, it’s not really your net incomes, but rather, what the State of New York calls your net income.
I'm no CPA or accounting professional mind you, but the State of New York's definition of net income doesn't reduce your gross income by Federal taxes paid. Which last time I checked, that's how most people do it...
But not NY, I guess?
So once you have all that net income business all figured out, you now apply a percentage to the number you came up with in step one based on the number of children you’re trying to provide child support for.
The New York child support calculator percentages are as follows:
17% for one child;
25% for two children;
29% for three children;
31% for four children; and
No less than 35% for five or more children.
Assuming you can do some basic math, it seems that all you’d have to do is multiply the percentage in the table above with the net income number you came up with in step one and you’d be all set.
I hate to break it to you, but it’s not that simple. Not even close.
You see, the percentages shown above are only applied to the first $154,000 of combined net income (that is net income as defined by the State of New York's standard) as that’s what the cap on the guideline says to do.
So what do you do if your incomes are above $154,000?”
Well, that’s where things get even trickier.
Dealing with the NY Child Support Cap
If you and your spouse do earn more than $154,000 per year in "net" income, one of two things could happen if you were to find yourselves in court.
The courts could either:
Use the formula we discussed above, applying the same percentage to your incomes that exceed $154,000 as was applied to your income that was below $154,000;
Use their own formula and randomly decide how much additional child support there will be; or
Not award any additional child support.
It’s truly anybody’s guess.
Whether or not there will be additional child support will be predicated on the following factors:
How much money you and your spouse have as well as how much money your children have;
Your children’s health from both a physical and emotional standpoint;
If your children have any special needs or show any special abilities that may require additional financial support;
What your children’s lives would have looked like were you and your spouse not to divorce;
The taxes you each pay;
Other contributions that are not financial in nature that each of you will make to your children;
If either of you wants to go to school and further your education;
If there’s a large disparity in your incomes; and
If there are any other children from a previous relationship that either of you are supporting.
You’ll notice most of these factors aren’t even financial in nature so how the courts will apply them is a mystery.
A lot is left out of the NYS Child Support Guidelines.
So far, you've learned the NY child support guidelines attempt to provide you with an amount of financial support needed to raise your children.
But even when you run the guidelines and go through all the steps mentioned above, there are still many other expenses that aren't included in the basic child support amount.
In New York, there’s also something called “add-on child support.” This is in addition to your regular child support and the child support on any incomes above the upper-income threshold.
These add-on expenses may include:
Child care costs;
Medical insurance premiums;
Unreimbursed medical expenses; and
Educational expenses; and
Non-recurring payments from extraordinary sources.
What the heck are non-recurring payments from extraordinary sources?
Good question! Non-recurring payments from extraordinary sources are expenses that you as parents incur, but which don't fall neatly into any of the expenses explicitly mentioned above.
Examples of non-recurring payments from extraordinary sources may include:
Sleep away camps;
Tablets and smart phones;
Prom dresses and tuxedos;
And lots more!
All of these items must be negotiated at the time of your divorce as there is no formulaic way to determine them.
Starting to see why determining child support is not as simple as using some free calculator you may have found on the Internet?
There are other exclusions to child support in New York.
In addition to the regular and add-on expenses associated with having a child, you and your spouse will also need to discuss and come to agreement on:
Who deducts the children on their taxes;
Whether you have enough life insurance to cover the children's expenses now and when they go off to college;
How college will be paid for;
The duration of child support payments in New York (because for some children, it may extend beyond the normal age of emancipation.)
Making the list of what isn't addressed by the NY child support guidelines longer and longer!
The New York child support guidelines aren’t applicable in all situations.
In order for the NY child support guideline to be applied as-is, you and your spouse’s incomes must be predictable from month-to-month and year-to-year.
So if one or both of you earn more of your compensation from bonuses, commissions or stock options, the guidelines simply won’t work.
And as you learned, there's an income cap of $154,000 in the guidelines.
Meaning if you and your spouse collectively earn more than that in a calendar year (and to live in New York City chances are you do) the guidelines won’t work "as-is."
And you'll have no choice in your case but to skip the guidelines and negotiate instead.
Which is not always so easy to do.
When the law gets involved, it’s a problem.
There’s something you need to understand here: In a litigated divorce, a judge determines child support payment in family court.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Because they’ll dictate court-ordered child support and the terms of the settlement and both spouses might wind up with something they don’t think is fair or that doesn’t appropriately meet the needs of their children.
That’s why it’s better to negotiate this issue out of family court and that’s exactly what mediation is all about.
In mediation, you get to decide as parents - and come to an agreement that puts your children first and you both agree is fair - out of court - instead of letting your future be decided by a stranger.
You’ll get the best result by mediating with us.
Child support issues will vary based on your situation and circumstances of your case.
And as you’ve learned, there is more than meets the eye on this topic. So don't risk putting your children's financial future in jeopardy by trying to resolve child support payments on your own or with divorce attorneys in court.
Using our extensive financial expertise, we'll help you and your spouse determine a child support number that accurately reflects your lives as parents and takes into account the specialized needs of your children.
One that covers all regular, add-on, and future expenses.
We’ll talk about who your children are, what they like to do and what it will take to make sure they’re getting what they need and deserve. Not just what the formula says you have to pay so they can “get by.”
We’ll work through specialized cases like child support in which you share in the care of your children equally or almost equally because the time the children spend with each of you isn't explicitly factored into the New York child support guideline.
We’ll help you negotiate any issues of disagreement and create an agreement you both find fair and equitable as parents regarding the support of your children.
We’ll also make sure you and your spouse not only come to an agreement that you both find to be fair, but also one that minimizes tax issues, avoids penalties and improves cash flow whenever possible in your case.
Because no two situations are alike.
Your children are unique and your child support agreement should reflect that, too.
Equitable Mediation can help you prevent your children from becoming economic victims of your divorce.
Why be forced to accept a settlement created by a family law attorney or judge in family court when you can have a direct say in creating an agreement that works for your children now and into the future instead?
If you want your divorce to be fair and equitable, and you want to make decisions as parents, not as litigants, do what’s best for your kids and mediate your no-fault divorce with Equitable Mediation.
If you and your spouse have both agreed to divorce and want to mediate, take the next step and book an initial meeting for the two of you.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.