How Split and Joint Custody may Affect Child Support Calculations

Issues caused by Split and Joint Custody on Guideline Support Calculations

Throughout our many years of practice appearing before the Support Magistrates in the Family Courts located in Westchester County (including White Plains, NY, Yonkers, NY and New Rochelle, NY), and the surrounding counties, one of the recurring questions that we are asked by clients is, "How will my Child Custody Order affect my Child Support case?"

In order to answer that question, it is important to recognize that the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA), which is used to calculate child support and is often referred to as the "guidelines", assumes that all of the children between a set of parents reside primarily with one of the parents (typically described as the "custodial parent"). The problem arises when there is Split Custody (where at least one child resides with each parent) or Joint Custody (where, in this context, the child or children reside with each parent roughly the same amount of time). The New York Family Courts treat each circumstance differently when calculating child support obligations in accordance with the CSSA.

How Split Custody is dealt with in Westchester and the Surrounding Counties

In Split Custody situations, the CSSA may be applied using the statutory provisions set forth therein. The only difference is that there is an additional step that was approved by the Appellate Divsion, Third Department in case of Riseley v. Riseley. In that case, the Court determined than each parent should be the deemed the custodial parent for those children residing with them. Then the CSSA provisions are applied to each household separately, calculating the respective guideline amounts and statutory percentages. Then, the results of each calculation are compared against each other with the smaller obligation being subtracted from the greater one, thereby determining the net obligation that one parent will have to pay the other.

In any event, the Court will still have discretion under the statute to use its authority to declare an amount unjust or inappropriate and fix a more appropriate award.

The Affect of Equal Time in Joint Custody Cases upon Child Support

In the context of this discussion, one must remember that by simply using the term "Joint Custody" it does not necessarily remove child support calculations from the CSSA. In fact, when we refer to Joint Custody, we are usually defining the term in terms of legal decision making. The sharing of legal decision between the parents would have no impact upon the need for or amount of support.

That said, there are situations where children reside roughly the same amount of time with each parent. When this occurs, the parents are providing basic support for the child during the time the child is with them and if the incomes of the parents are substantially similar, then a reasonable conclusion is that child support would not have to be paid.

In situations where one parent has a greater income or resources than the other parent, the parent with lesser income or resources may have a difficult time maintaining the lifestyle that the children enjoy while with the more affluent parent. Unfortunately, there is no standard method employed in making support calculations in such circumstances. Historically, the Courts have (1) calculated child support using the CSSA guidelines by assuming that each parent had custody and then ordering the difference in the sums; (2) determined the children's reasonable needs and then apportion financial responsibility between the parents in proportion to their respective incomes; or (3) fixing child support in accordance with the guidelines and then using the statutory factors to evaluate whether or not the amount is unjust or inappropriate, thereby allowing the Court to deviate either upwards or downwards to arrive at an appropriate amount.

What to do if you are seeking Child Support or are obligated to pay Child Support

Since child support begins to accrue at the time a petition or action is filed, it is important that you have the assistance of an experienced Family Law Child Support lawyer, who is knowledgeable in the how child support is calculated and how different cases are treated in the different Family Courts throughout Westchester County (including White Plains, NY, Yonkers, NY and New Rochelle, NY), as soon as possible.

To get immediate assistance and to find out how your finances and rights should be protected, please contact Proto, Sachs & Brown, LLP for a free consultation. Not understanding the process and your rights may result in incorrect calculations and improper child support orders.