If I Have Equal Parenting Time Does That Mean I Don’t Have to Pay Child Support?

Baby in high chairI am often asked if a 50/50 parenting schedule means that neither party is obligated to pay child support. While the parties can certainly agree to waive seeking maintenance from each other due to the fact that each party is probably spending just as much money to care for the child as the other, the law does not necessarily preclude one parent from seeking child support from the other.  Furthermore, the Courts have expressly held that a parent may still be entitled to guideline child support as set forth in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

The Appellate Court has emphasized this factor in In re Marriage of Demattia, 302 Ill. App. 3d 390 (4th Dist. 1999) in which the Court held that in joint custody cases where the mother is the primary physical custodian and the father has extended visitation and care, the law does not mandate a downward deviation from guideline child support. Another Court has stated that a trial court does have discretion in deviating from guidelines, but that said deviation must be based on the reasonable needs of the child with the available means of the parent.  In re Marriage of Bush, 191 Ill. App. 3d 249 (4th Dist. 1989).

In re Marriage of Demattia, he parties entered into a joint custody agreement for their three minor children with the mother as the primary physical custodian of the minor children, and a parenting schedule for the father for every Tuesday through Friday from 6AM to 2PM, alternating weekends, and 6AM to 4PM on the Saturdays that Mother worked.  The Court ordered the father to pay monthly child support pursuant to Illinois guidelines as set forth in section 505 of the Act. Father appealed the trial court’s decision stating that his child support obligation by law should be reduced below guidelines because both parents provided for the children’s primary care.

The Court distinguished this case from cases where the parties have split custody of the children, such as each parent having physical custody of one child, from situations such as Demattia where both parents share equal parenting time with the minor children.  In split custody cases, the Courts have found that a trial court may disregard the statutory guidelines and instead consider the factors in section 505 of the Act.  In re Marriage of Steadman, 283 Ill. App. 3d 703, 708 (3d Dist. 1996).   The Court in Demattia instead held that in joint custody cases with shared parenting time, the trial court cannot deviate unless it finds compelling evidence that shows reason for the deviation.  Relevant factors include, but are not limited to, (1) the financial resources of the children; (2) the financial resources and needs of the custodial parent; (3) the children’s standard of living during the marriage; (4) the physical and emotional condition of the children and their educational needs; and (5) the financial resources and needs of the noncustodial parent.

The Court in Demattia noted that Section 505 does not include a provision addressing joint custody cases when the noncustodial parent receives extended visitation rights with the Children.  As a result, while a trial court may consider the extended visitation, it is not mandated by law to deviate downward nor is it obligated to make an express finding as to why it did not deviate from guidelines. And if a trial court is inclined to deviate from guidelines or not order child support altogether, it must make an express finding based on the Section 505 factors of the Act as to the specific facts and reasoning for deviating from Illinois child support guidelines.

 

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