Beginning this month, new Missouri guidelines take effect, changing the formula that dictates how child support is paid.
Attorney Marta Papa, principal of The Law Office of Marta J. Papa, explains that the changes involve the revision of ‘Form 14,’ a worksheet that determines the monthly amount of child support paid by the non-custodial parent. She says the worksheet has three main components. “The first involves a cost-of-living adjustment to the base monthly amount, let’s say $848 for one child. The second part factors in other expenses such as day care, private school and medical premiums, in addition to the base amount,” she explains. The third component, Papa says, involves adjustments and credits. “For example, maybe Dad is already paying $200 for medical insurance. Or, he may spend a substantial amount of time with the children. We take into consideration how much he’d spend on food, clothing, etc., and based on the numbers, we give him a credit (or percentage) back.”
Papa says one significant change affects higher-income parties. “In the past, the chart formulated payments only for couples who made a combined gross monthly income of no more than $20,000, or $240,000 a year. The new formula expands the chart to include those who make up to $30,000 a month.” Papa says the changes will accommodate more families and cut down on inconsistencies among judges. “We take into consideration whether Dad sees the kids two times a year or 135 days a year. And with some of the wealthier parents, they spend more on their kids, like $1,000 on hockey or equestrian lessons alone,” she notes. “There used to be some confusion as to how high you can go in terms of giving Dad credit. Now, the maximum credit for overnights with a non-custodial parent is 34 percent, even if he or she has the children 50 percent of the time.”
To make an adjustment to an existing child support arrangement in light of the changes, a parent needs to file a motion to modify child support, according to attorney Sarah Pleban. But there are other circumstances in which child support can be modified, including job loss or decrease in salary. “In general, there should be at least a 20 percent change in income,” she explains, adding that a favorable ruling is not automatic. “The courts will look at certain things, such as whether you had anything to do with the change of your status at work.”
A child’s changing needs may also warrant a modification. “Sometimes a child may need special education or therapy, or may no longer need daycare,” Pleban says. “Also, there are times when a decree doesn’t provide for college expenses, so people will make adjustments when the kids are getting close to college age.”
David Roither, a partner at Medler & Roither, says affected parties would be best served by contacting their attorneys for guidance on how to proceed. “Not everybody knows about the changes, and it’s up to an attorney to investigate how these might affect parents,” he says.
It’s also important to note that the process takes time, Roither says. While some cases are resolved within a 60- to 90-day period, others take a year or more. “Let’s assume that the dad lost his job at the beginning of the year, but it might take an entire year to resolve his case. The good news is, when the new amount is determined, it will be retroactively applied,” he explains.
Roither says the new guidelines, coupled with the current state of the economy, are likely to boost the number of child support modification filings this year. “We’ve already seen a slight increase in filings. In light of the economy, a lot of executives may not be getting bonuses or raises this year, so that may factor into the equation.”