If you are facing a contested child support determination, it is important that you understand how such calculations are made under Michigan law, and what factors are considered in the ultimate amount ordered. Determining appropriate child support is not as simple as drawing a number out of a hat, but involves the very complex Michigan Child Support Formula, which takes several factors into consideration. Understanding how this process works may help you accept the terms of the child support awarded in your case.
Child Support Should Divide the Burden of Child-Related Costs
The Michigan Child Support Formula is designed to allocate the financial responsibility for providing for the needs of the child between the child’s parents. Ideally, it should be based upon the actual needs of the child and the relative ability of both of the parents to pay for the support of the child.
The amount of support ordered by the court to be paid by one party to another is not intended to, nor should it, pay the whole cost of providing for the child. An appropriately established child support level should take into consideration the payer’s ability to pay as well as the obligation of the custodial parent to participate in the financial responsibilities of rearing the child.
Using the Michigan Child Support Formula
Calculation of the amount of child support that is to be paid is a complex matter. The law requires that the Court consider two principal factors. These factors are:
- The needs of the minor children; and
- The ability of the respective parties to pay support.
It is clear that both parties are obligated to help support the minor children. Michigan law has turned to the “power of the computer” in initiating the determination of child support awards.
Specifically, pursuant to the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act contained in MCL 552.605, the legislature has required that family courts use the “Michigan Child Support Formula,” sometimes referred to simply as “the Guidelines,” to determine an appropriate level of child support. This formula, now required to be used, provides for a calculation as to the appropriate level of support to be paid by one parent to the other for the minor children, by off-setting the amounts that each should be contributing.
On a technical level, these computer-assisted guidelines utilize a series of charts or grids based upon the demographic information available regarding the costs associated with rearing a child. Injected into the formula are the gross incomes of the parties, in order to determine the place on the grid which will represent the base amount of child support to be paid by one party to the other. Additional information is then factored into that base amount, in order to increase or decrease the support based upon the circumstances of the case.
On a practical level, the formula utilizes the income of the parties, as well as several additional numerical factors, to determine support. The key numerical factors used in addition to gross income include:
- The number of children to be supported;
- Any mandatory deductions from income;
- The number of overnights each parent enjoys with the children;
- The amount each parent pays in verifiable child care expenses;
- The amount each parent contributes for health care coverage for the benefit of the children; and
- Second family obligations, if any.
These guidelines are in no way exclusive, and any other relevant factors may be considered. The Michigan Legislature has commanded that the level of child support determined by the guidelines must be the ordered support amount unless compelling circumstances support a deviation.