A discussion recently transpired among family law practitioners regarding child support payments in circumstances where parenting plans provide for equal (50/50) residential time with each parent. A novice family law attorney was coming to the (more experienced) field of family law lawyers looking for an answer to her client’s question regarding child support. Unfortunately, even the most veteran among us was unable to give a clear answer because the law does not provide a clear answer. Instead, it appears, based on many practitioners experience, that it depends on the specific circumstances of the case, or even the specific decision maker’s opinion on how this issue should be handled. In a case where one parent has the child(ren) 90% of the time, it can be fairly simple to determine how much child support the parent with 10% of the residential time will pay (assuming no extenuating circumstances). In those cases, the law does provide a fairly straightforward process for determining child support based on the parties income. But, when there is a 50/50 parenting plan in place, it is less clear if the same process applies, or if another formula should apply.
What is clear is that one thing is always considered by the court when making decisions regarding this issue. The court is going to want to know about the income disparity (if there is one) between the parties. If both parties make roughly the same amount, it is more likely the court will order that there be no transfer payment (i.e. one parent paying the other). With a large disparity in income, it becomes more likely that there will be a transfer payment. This makes sense given that the total child support amount (the amount that the legislature has deemed should be spent on a child with parents of that combined income level) is to be shared between the parties, and the lower-earning parent will be unable to provide for the child at the level the parties could if they were both contributing their proportional (tbased on income) share to the support of the child.
There is a separate formula for when the parties with more than one child split the children up, with one child residing at one parent’s home, and the other residing at the other parent’s home.