Aside from residency and visitation, one of the biggest concerns for parents going through a divorce, judicial separation, or parental rights and responsibilities action is how much they will either receive or pay in child support. As with every legal question, the answer is always: it depends on the facts of your case, which includes the incomes and obligations of both parties. While there are child support guideline amounts, there is no “average amount” of child support in Maine. During case consultations with potential clients, I can usually provide a ballpark estimate of child support amounts. If you wonder how much you will have to pay for child support in Maine, or how much you’ll receive, or if you think you may already be paying too much or not receiving enough and wish to modify, you should consult with a Maine family law attorney to discuss your situation.
What is child support?
As a matter of public policy, courts prefer that children have a relatively similar lifestyle at both of their homes. Child support is intended to be used for clothing, food, housing expenses, entertainment, health expenses, etc. In order to create some certainty and uniformity in child support cases, Maine uses child support guideline tables. (Last Updated January 2017). If you take a look at the table, you can see what child support presumptive amounts are based upon the parent’s combined incomes and the age and number of the children. For example, if parents have a combined income of $100,000 a year, the guidelines suggest that it costs $243 per week to support an only child. (This amount would not include daycare costs, extraordinary health insurance costs, etc.) Sometimes, people panic when looking at those numbers, but does it mean that a non-primary or higher earning parent will be ordered to pay $243 per week on guidelines alone? No. This number is the amount that both parents would share for support. Final numbers would be based upon a percentage of their incomes and numerous other factors.
In family law cases, we generally look at three different places in order to calculate guideline child support – the guidelines, a child support worksheet, and if applicable, a supplemental worksheet. Finally, if support guidelines can be deviated from (either up or down), the calculations become even more complex. (I’ll blog on that topic another day.)
After we look at the guidelines table to determine the combined income of both parents and then figure out the guideline number of weekly support per child, we then use either one or two child support worksheets. If the children do not equally reside with both parents (“50/50”), then we use the standard child support worksheet : (Last updated by the court on 8/16.). If the child or children lives equally with both parents, then we use a second supplemental worksheet: (Last updated by the court on 8/16). *Word of caution, while both forms provide room for error, the supplemental worksheet can be particularly confusing.
Child Support Examples
I cannot stress enough how unique each situation is. There are multiple factors to consider and no two child support cases are the same. Here are some examples: (If your incomes happen to be the same as these scenarios, you must not rely on these calculations as many other factors could increase or decrease the support in your case.)
Example 1. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with both parents earning $50,000 a year.
In this scenario, assuming that a twelve year-old child and an eight year-old child live most of the time with the primary care provider, and the non-primary care provider pays health insurance costs of $50 per week and no daycare or other extraordinary medical expenses are involved, the primary care provider in this situation would be eligible to receive a guideline support amount of $148.00 a week. This figure may surprise some as both of the incomes are the same. However, the primary care provider would still receive support in this scenario.
Example 2. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with one parent (non-primary) earning $75,000 a year, and one parent (primary) earning $25,000 a year.
In a nearly identical scenario as the one above, but assuming that the primary care provider earns $25,000 a year, and the non-primary care provider earns $75,000 a year, the non-primary care parent and higher earner would pay $247 a week. (This includes the non-primary parent getting credit for paying health insurance premiums.)
Example 3. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with one parent (primary) earning $25,000 a year and one parent (non-primary) earning $ 75,000 a year, with the non -primary parent having existing obligations in another family matter case.
If the primary care provider earns $25,000 a year and the non-primary care provider earns $75,000 a year and pays $50/week for health insurance premiums, but also has a court order for $500.00 a month spousal support (to a former spouse other than the primary parent) and an order to already pay $200 per week for a child outside this scenario, than the new obligation for the non-primary care provider for the two children in this scenario would be $232 a week.
Example 4. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with both parents sharing “50/50” residency, and both earning $50,000 a year, with one parent paying $50/week in health insurance premiums.
In this scenario, the parties would not be paying or receiving any support. (Well, the $50.00 could technically be split by both parties, but that is likely and hopefully a scenario where both parties would agree how to pay the premium.)
Example 5. Combined Income of $100,000 a year; with both parents sharing “50/50” residency, with one parent earning $25,000 a year and a higher earning parent earning $75,000 a year who also pays $50/week in health insurance premiums.
In this scenario, the higher earning parent’s obligation to the lower earning parent would still be $247 a week (as it was in one of the earlier scenarios.) This is due to the disparities in income. Substantially equal care does not always equal out to paying no child support or lowering child support obligations.
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