BY JOY S. ROSENTHAL, ESQ.
Many people across New York state use the Maintenance and Child Support Calculator we offer on our website (the “Calculator”). This article contains some tips and pointers for using it – it is designed for lay people as well as for lawyers.
Currentness of this article:
- This article was published in February 2019. “Currently”, where used in this article, means current as of February 2019. The results produced by the Calculator are based on several values that are periodically revised under New York state and federal law; therefore, some of the examples given in this article may differ from results you obtain from the latest updated version of the Calculator.
A few helpful points before we begin:
- The Calculator is simply an informational tool, but it is not legal or tax advice and does not replace the advice and wise counsel of an experienced family law attorney. We strongly recommend that you speak with a New York family law attorney before signing any legal documents relating to the care or support of your family.
- The Calculator only relates to the laws of New York State.
- The law is made in two ways – one is by statutes created by a legislative body (for example, the New York Domestic Relations Law and the Family Court Act), and the other is by case law, which is written by judges. When a judge is making a ruling, she is applying the statute (and prior case law) to the facts specific to the case in front of her. Every family is different, so every ruling is different. Judges use their discretion, which makes it difficult to predict how the law would be applied to the specifics of any particular family’s situation. For instance, two families where the parents make the exact same income might have very different outcomes depending on many factors, including where they live, the children’s particular needs and the parenting arrangement.
- There are notes and instructions throughout the Calculator to help you. Read the small print if you have questions.
- If you click on the symbols that look like this – § – a new screen will appear that will show you the statute associated with this part of the Calculator.
- There are specific lists of variables that judges consider when making their determinations. We have a link to the list of these factors in Note 5 in the Maintenance section and in in Note 6 in the Child Support section.
- Parents who are not married are not required to pay spousal support. To use the Calculator to determine Child Support only, input your income and deductions information in those sections at the top – and skip the Maintenance section. Scroll right down to the Child Support section — in line 33, select “No maintenance” in order to get accurate results for the Child Support calculation.
- You and your ex may decide upon your own financial arrangement – you do not have to follow the guideline amounts. We recommend (and practice) mediation and collaborative law as processes to help you come to agreement on all areas relating to separation and divorce. Please note, however, that such agreement will have to be court ordered before it is enforceable.
- If you would like to save your results, you can print them to paper or to a .pdf file and save them on your computer.
- You might want to experiment with different scenarios in order to get more comfortable using the Calculator. If the results seem strange, revisit each place where you had to make a decision – pay particular attention to the buttons on the side (e.g. use guideline amount from above, use deviation amount from above).
- A few words for clarification:
- Spousal support, spousal maintenance, maintenance and alimony all mean the same thing, for our purposes.
- Parents, parties, and participants also mean the same thing for our purposes. We also refer to people as the payor and the payee.
- The Maintenance payor is the spouse who makes more income, and the payee is the spouse who makes less income.
- Temporary Maintenance is the spousal support paid from one spouse to another between the time the divorce petition is filed and the time the judgment of divorce is signed. Post Divorce Maintenance is spousal support paid after the judgment of divorce is signed. They both use the same formula.
- The Child Support payor is called the noncustodial parent (for Child Support purposes), and the Child Support payee is called the custodial parent.
- If one parent has the children more than 50% of the time, that person is considered to be the custodial parent. The New York Child Support guidelines do not include a more nuanced view of how much time the children spend with each parent – so the same guidelines will apply to a parent who has the children 49% of the time as a parent who sees the children once a month.
- If the children spend the same amount of time with each parent (50% each), the parent with more income is considered to be the noncustodial parent for Child Support purposes. (This would be addressed in the factors listed in Note 6.)
- There are two caps that come into play – they are different:
- The Maintenance Guideline Law uses a cap on the Payor’s income, which is currently $184,000.
- The Child Support Standards Act uses a cap on the Combined Parental income, which is currently $148,000.
- The Calculator displays the amounts paid in a variety of frequencies. While support is usually expressed in terms of the amount per year or per month, we have included some other terms as well. Semimonthly is for people who pay support twice a month (e.g. on the 1st and 15th day of the month, or 24 times a year), and biweekly is for people who receive support biweekly (e.g. every other Friday, or 26 times a year).
So now, let’s begin:
- There are 3 parts to the Calculator – the first part is where you put in information about your INCOME and allowable DEDUCTIONS. The second part is the MAINTENANCE calculator. The third part is the CHILD SUPPORT calculator.
INCOME and DEDUCTIONS
- Contrary to what you might expect, the starting point is gross (or total) income — not net income, or take-home pay. In other words, federal and state income taxes are NOT deducted when considering child support.
- Use the most recent income information that you have available, or the numbers that represent the most accurate picture of your current income. You should use information for the same year for both spouses, if possible.
- If you are employed and receive W-2 income, use Line 1 of the Calculator and type in the amount listed on Box 5 of your W-2 form. (Note: Box 5 includes voluntarily deferred compensation, which is not subject to income tax but is includable as CSSA income.)
- If you are self employed, use Line 2 of the Calculator and input the amount on Line 12 of your 1040 form.
- The allowable deductions are Social Security, Medicare, and local (i.e. New York City or Yonkers) income tax. If you don’t know what you actually paid (or will pay), you can instruct the Calculator to estimate these deductions.
- There are some other items that will count as income and as deductions – they should be self-explanatory. Click on the § sign next to any line number if you want to see what part of the statute it is referencing.
- Once the income and deductions figures are put in, the Calculator will automatically figure out your adjusted income for the purposes of determining child support. (Note that this is not what people generally refer to as Adjusted Gross Income.) We call it “Adjusted CSSA Income” on the Calculator.
MAINTENANCE (Temporary and Post-Divorce)
- Spousal support is always determined before child support.
- The purpose of spousal support is to help the payee have time to become self-sufficient, and is usually limited in duration.
- There are 2 different spousal support formulas that are used – one is used when the payor is also paying child support, and the other is used when the payor is not paying child support. That is why the Calculator asks you whether there are children, and if so, which parent is considered the custodial parent.
- Once you input the income and deduction information, the Calculator will automatically figure out the guideline amount of spousal support.
- The Maintenance Guideline Law (DRL § DRL 236-B) caps the payor’s income at a certain amount – currently $184,000. So even if the payor’s income is much higher, only $184,000 will be counted when determining the guideline amount of spousal support.
- If the payor’s income is above the cap, the Calculator will ask you if you would like to apply the formula to the payor’s income above the cap. That would be considered a deviation, since it is not part of the statutory framework.
- The Calculator will ask you if you would like to deviate from the guideline amount of spousal support. If you and your spouse agree on a deviation, press yes, and you can input the amount you will use. You will have to put in the frequency (e.g. $___ per month), as well.
- If neither party will be paying spousal support (e.g. if the parties are not married), use the button that asks if you want to deviate – just put in $0.
- In the section called “Duration of Post-Divorce Maintenance,” you will have the option to input the date of the marriage and the date the divorce action was commenced (or anticipated). The Calculator will then tell you the guideline range of months spousal support would last depending on the length of the marriage.
- Let’s take an example of Fred, who earns a salary of $120,000 per year (input in line 1), and Wilma, who is self-employed and earns $80,000 per year (input in line 2). This is their total gross income.
- Deductions: (Note that the following results are based on 2018 FICA and NYC tax rates; every year in January or February the Calculator is updated to reflect the rates that were in effect during the prior year.)
- For our example, let’s estimate their FICA taxes – the Calculator will automatically input $7,440 for Fred and $9,161.12 for Wilma on Line 17, and $1,740 for Fred and $2,142.52 for Wilma on Line 18 (Wilma’s is higher because she is self-employed.)
- Then tell the Calculator to estimate their NYC taxes. For our example, let’s say that Wilma will claim both children as dependents, so input 2 on Line (i) for Wilma. The Calculator will automatically fill Line 19 – $4,153.12 for Fred and $2,306.14 for Wilma. (For most people having simple income and tax situations, it will only be necessary to enter the number of dependents claimed on Line (i) to estimate NYC or Yonkers income tax. If Lines (d), (e), (h), & (l) apply to your situation, the estimate will be more accurate if these amounts are included. Click the “Instructions & Disclaimer” link in the NYC/Yonkers tax section of the Calculator for more information about those lines.)
- Line 25 will total the deductions and Line 28 will give their Adjusted CSSA Income — $106,666.88 for Fred, and $66,390.22 for Wilma.
- Next, I am assuming that Wilma is the primary custodial parent of the kids (call me old fashioned…)
- The Calculator will go through the calculations and give you the results for the Guideline Amount of Maintenance. You will see the result expressed in different payment frequencies. In our case, Fred would be paying Wilma $2,832.62 per year, or $236.05 per month.
- Next, the Calculator shows what their respective incomes are after paying the Guideline Amount of Maintenance, and gives you the opportunity to calculate how long it would be payable. In our case, Fred’s income will be $103,834.26 after paying Maintenance, and Wilma’s will be $69,222.84 after receiving it.
- Remember: if Fred’s income is over the statutory cap of the payor’s income (currently $184,000), the guideline amount will only go up to the cap unless you instruct the Calculator to deviate.
- There are two parts to Child Support –
- basic child support, which is a dollar amount that one parent pays to the other to cover the essential costs such as food, clothing and shelter; and
- add-on expenses, which includes expenses that change over time and may be particular to each child, for instance, the costs of childcare or school, camp, activities, or unreimbursed medical expenses.
- Both parents are responsible for supporting each child until that child is “emancipated.” This is usually when the child reaches the age of 21 in New York. However, it could be a little later, if the child is a full-time student, or earlier if the child is really self-sufficient.
- Line 32 of the Calculator restates the Adjusted CSSA income from above.
- Just above that, enter the number of children of both parents. There are statutory percentages of income based upon the number of children. For one child, the State considers that the Child Support amount is 17% of the combined parental income, for two children the percentage is 25%, etc. The Calculator will determine the appropriate percentage.
- If there is spousal support being paid, the Calculator will automatically include it as income for the payee and deduct the same amount from the payor’s income. In Line 33, select the button to use the guideline amount of spousal support, the deviation you specified in the Maintenance Section, or no maintenance. (If the parents aren’t married select no maintenance.)
- The NYS Child Support formula is based on the combined parental income. Each parent is responsible for paying his or her pro rata share (that is, the amount in proportion to the total).
- The statutory cap for combined parental income is currently $148,000. The Calculator is designed to calculate the amount of Child Support up to the statutory amount, but you can adjust the amount of the cap. (Again, this is not part of the statutory framework.)
- At various points, the Calculator shows each partner’s income after payments of Maintenance and/or Child Support are made. These results do not factor in any tax consequences that may result from Maintenance payments, and also note that Child Support payments are not technically considered to be income for tax or CSSA purposes.
- Our reading of recent case law is that courts in the New York City metropolitan area (including Westchester and Long Island) often use an income cap much higher than the statute calls for. The case law is wide ranging, but we estimate that it is generally around $300,000 – 350,000 per year.
- You can choose to apply the Child Support percentage to the combined parental income above the cap. If you do that, you will have to specify whether to remove the cap altogether (and apply it to the total combined parental income) or whether you want to “adjust” (or create your own) cap.
- Note that the relative percentages (or pro rata share) of each parent’s income remains the same, no matter what the cap is. However, you can see that the basic Child Support payment is higher once the cap on combined parental income is removed.
- Again, the Calculator will show you how much income each partner will have after paying or receiving Maintenance and Child Support.
- If you would like the Summary and Comparison Section to show an amount above the statutory cap, remember to click Yes where it asks if you would like to deviate from the Basic Child Support Obligation. You can then click on whether you would like to use the adjusted cap from above, or specify another amount.
- Example: Going back to our example:
- Let’s say Fred and Wilma have 2 kids, and we use the Guideline Amount of Maintenance. Now Fred’s adjusted income, listed in Line 34, is $103,834.26 and Wilma’s is $69,222.84.
- Their combined parental income, listed in Line 35, is $173,057.10. (Notice that this is higher than the statutory cap of $148,000 in combined parental income.) Fred earns 60% of the total, and Wilma earns 40% of the total.
- Fred and Wilma should pay 25% of their combined parental income (up to the cap) in child support. In other words, the Child Support amount is $37,000 per year, which is 25% of $148,000 (or $3,083.33 per month). Fred is responsible for 60% of that, or $1,850 per month, and Wilma is responsible for 40%, or $1233.33 per month.
- So, assuming Fred pays the statutory amounts of spousal and Child Support to Wilma, he will pay her $236.05 in spousal support, + $1,850.00 in Child Support per month – plus 60% of the add-on expenses.
- The next line shows that after paying both, Fred’s Adjusted CSSA Income will be $81,634.26 and Wilma’s will be $91,422.84.
- If you want to see what would happen if you applied the formula to the total combined income, click Yes where it asks if you want to apply the Child Support percentage above the cap, and then click Remove the Cap.
- This shows that Fred would pay Wilma a total of $25,958.57 per year, or $2,163.21 per month (instead of the $1,850). Now, Fred’s Adjusted CSSA Income will be $77,875.69 and Wiilma’s will be $95,181.41.
- If you are going to use this deviation, click Yes under the question “Deviate from the Basic Child Support Obligation?” and select “Use adjusted-cap result from above” and you will see the results reflecting in the Summary & Comparison Section.
SUMMARY & COMPARISON
- The last section of the Calculator shows how much the payor is responsible for paying now (up to the Maintenance and Child Support caps only), and how much the payor will pay if Maintenance ends before child support, or if Child Support ends before maintenance. It is really a speculative tool in most cases, since incomes will change by then, but is there for reference and information.
- Finally, if you have specified any deviations from the guideline Maintenance or Child Support above, the deviations are displayed for the purpose of comparing them to the guideline amounts.
We hope this guide is helpful – speak to your lawyer or feel free to contact us with questions or clarifications.