Divorce is a legal matter between two spouses. A child custody dispute involves the child as a third party, but it is essentially a legal argument between two parents.
At first glance, child support might also seem to be a personal matter between the two parents, but that is not exactly right. Under New York law, the obligation for child support doesn’t stem from the relationship between the parents, it stems from each parent’s obligations toward their child. The state gets involved to make sure they are living up to their obligations.
A child’s right to care and support and the parents’ responsibility thereto are matters legally mandated and enforceable by the state. But prior to the 1980s, child support was largely decided by a presiding judge in family court—a system that fell short all too often, resulting in inadequate or inconsistent child awards and sometimes no child support at all.
A federal mandate
In 1984, the Child Support Enforcement Act was passed requiring all states to establish child support guidelines and to gird their enforcement powers. In 1988, the Family Support Act further buttressed the law, requiring states to make their established advisory guidelines presumptive.
Income Shares Model
The states responded with different models for their guidelines. New York, as well as 40 other states, follows the Income Shares Model, which asserts that a child is entitled to a proportion of both parents’ income, and this entitlement holds post-divorce.
Specifically, a portion of the adjusted gross income of both parents is slated for child support as follows:
- 17% for 1 child
- 25% for 2 children
- 29% for 3 children
- 31% for 4 children
- Not less than 35% for 5 or more children
The support award is then divided proportionately between the two parents based on their respective incomes.
The law has teeth
If a parent shirks his or her financial responsibility, the court has many tools at its disposal to enforce payments, such as:
- Wage garnishment;
- Property seizure;
- Withholding child support from tax refunds;
- Withholding child support from lottery winnings over $600;
- Barring the nonpaying parent from obtaining a U.S. passport;
- Revoking a driver’s license;
- Revoking professional, business and recreational licenses; and
- Obtaining a money judgment—this holds for 20 years, so if the nonpaying parent is broke now, s/he can be made to pay later.
Obtaining, modifying and enforcing child support orders in New York are weighty, complex matters. They’re best navigated with the help of skilled, effective counsel.