BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
Just as we read stories about celebrity first-time mothers, we read about bitter battles over child support and custody among the rich and famous. Of course, the same stories can be told about ordinary people who aren't in the celebrity spotlight.
A recent case involves the now-famous single dad, Levi Johnston, who was ordered to pay Bristol Palin more than $1,200 per month in child support for their child, born shortly after Sarah Palin's run for the vice-presidency.
Flexible Child Support
Headlines said Levi Johnston asked that flexible child support be allowed for the support he must provide for his infant son. An Alaska judge ordered Johnston to pay $1,750 per month for child support based on Johnston's projected annual income of more than $110,000.
However, as in any child support case, lawyers for both parents will dig and search for all relevant financial information. Bristol Palin's lawyer asked the judge to order Johnston to turn over contracts he received from the various magazine appearances. The goal of Palin's lawyer was to glean data on how much Johnston might expect to earn in the future.
It's not surprising that Johnston is asking that the amount be "flexible." No one can predict whether Johnston's 15 minutes of fame will stretch on for years. How he handles fame and fortune, and how well his agent and manager handle his money, will impact his bottom line.
State Laws and Child Support
Each state differs as to how much child support must be paid by one parent to the other parent. Generally, the non-custodial parent pays support to the parent with primary custody. The Alaska child support guideline is 20 percent of annual income for one child when a parent has primary custody. State laws may adjust child support when parents share custody.
Many factors go into a child support calculation:
- Income of both parents
- Percentage of time the child lives with each parent
- Number of children born to each parent, and the birth order
- Timing and amount of any other child support orders as to other children
"Deadbeat parents" who don't pay their child support have prompted states to enact harsh penalties, especially when a large amount is due. In many states, an arrest and jail time is possible.
The state where the child resides, or has resided for most of the time, will most likely be the state where a court will make decisions on who pays child support, and how much. However, if the child or the parents previously lived in a different state when child support was first requested or ordered, that state could continue to oversee child support.
A Significant Change in Circumstances
Once a judge orders a parent to pay a certain amount per month for child support, the order generally stays in place until the child reaches 18 or has completed college, depending on state law. However, if the parent can show that a "significant change in circumstances" has occurred, then the judge may change the amount of monthly child support, or even which parent must pay support.
Examples of such cases would include:
- The paying parent's job loss
- Having a substantial reduction in income
- Becoming disabled, or unable to work
- One parent having higher income or a more luxurious lifestyle
- When the percentage of time the child resides with each parent changes
The other standard applies as well. Just because a child is accustomed to living in a certain style, doesn't automatically mean the child will be supported in the same way, but the judge will consider many factors.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can the amount of my child support order change if I sell my business and make a lot more money?
- Are child support orders public information?
- What is the timeline for seeking child support changes? If the court changes the amount, when does it take effect?