Calculating Child Support: Who, when, why, and how much?

BabyIn Illinois, when determining child support, the Court starts with a basic formula set forth in the in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act Section 505 (750 ILCS 5/505). It’s based on the number of children. For one child, the payor pays 20% of his or her net income, for two children he or she pays 28%, for three it’s 32%, for four it is 40%, and if there are 5 children, he or she pays 45%.  The statute further defines what “net income” means. Certain deductions are allowed for items other than taxes, such as health insurance premiums.

Provided there is good reason, the Court will sometimes deviate downward from this formula. The most common reasons to deviate is when the payor earns a very high income (and the formula would result in a windfall to the payee) or the parties earn relatively equal income and spend roughly the same amount of time with the children. In the later scenario, no child support may be paid and the issue is “reserved”, meaning the Court does not make a ruling on child support one way or another but can revisit the issue later.

There are two common misconceptions about child support: 1.) that only fathers pay child support and 2.) that if the mother earns more than the father or she is self-supporting, she will not receive child support. Neither of  these things are general rules.

First, support is intended to go to the parent who has the children the majority of the time, whether it be the mother or the father. Often, the mother may have more parenting time with the children. However, there is no law or general rule that provides mothers shall have more parenting time. More and more we see fathers who have relatively equal parenting time.

Secondly, presume the mother earns more income than dad but has the child the majority of the time. Mom would still be entitled to child support from dad. The rationale is that the support is so the child can enjoy the same lifestyle he or she would have had the marriage stayed intact. The child would have still enjoyed a portion of dad’s income on a regular basis and should not be precluded from that when he his mother.

Frequently, it is a matter of financial need and the mother cannot survive with the support but in cases where mom is relatively self supporting there is well-settled case law in Illinois that supports awarding child support that exceeds the child’s needs if there’s evidence the child would have enjoyed a higher standard of living if the parents never divorced. See In re Keon C., 344 Ill. App. 3d 1137 (4th Dist. 2003).

While Illinois has a formula, there frequently is no easy calculation surrounding child support. Instead, it’s based on a series of factors that your counsel can argue before the Court or negotiate with your spouse’s counsel.

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