One question that often arises in divorce is how child support is determined. We have a great, free child support calculator on our website (if I do say so, myself!) for New York that lawyers and court personnel all over the state use. The formula is a bit complicated, so I wanted to take the time to review it step by step.
Both parents are responsible for supporting their children. The New York Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”)* provides a formula for determining the amount of child support for which each parent is responsible.
Basic Child Support
The following takes you through the process to determine Basic Child Support, which covers food, basic clothing and shelter:
- First, determine the parents’ CSSA income. The statute (and the calculator) define income very precisely. There are a few deductions, but not necessarily what you would expect. For instance, you cannot deduct state and federal income tax. You deduct only FICA and LOCAL income tax, which, in NYC, add up to be about 10% of the gross income.
- Second, add up both parents’ income to determine the combined parental income.
- Third, figure out what percentage will apply. Based on the number of children in the family, there is a predetermined percentage of the combined parental income taken. If there is one child, it’s 17%; if there are two children, it’s 25%.
- Fourth, multiply the combined parental income by the applicable percentage. The resulting number is the collective parental support obligation.
- Fifth, compare the parent’s incomes to each other. What percentage is each individual’s income to the combined parental income? That will determine each parent’s pro-rata share of the responsibility.
Let’s go through the steps with an example:
- First, let’s suppose Chris and Sandy have 2 kids. Chris earns $100,000 gross and Sandy earns $25,000 gross. The estimated deductions are about $11,000 for Chris, and $2,400 for Sandy, so their CSSA incomes are $89,000 and $22,600 respectively.
- Second, the combined parental income is $111,600.
- Third, since they have 2 kids, the child support percentage is 25%.
- Fourth, $111,600 x 25% = $27,900 per year, which is the collective parental support obligation.
- Fifth, Chris has 80% of the combined parental income, and Sandy has 20%. Therefore, Chris is responsible for 80% of $27,900, or $22,320 per year ($1,869/month), and Sandy is responsible for 20% of $27,900, or $5,580 ($465/month).
If the children live with one parent more time than the other, that parent receives child support and the parent who has the children less often pays child support. (Notice that the NY formula makes no distinction between the parent who has the children 49% of the time and the parent who has the children 5% of the time.) If the children live with each parent half of the time, the higher earning parent pays the lower earning parent.
But, of course, children need more than bread alone. They need child care and medical care and things like after-school programs, trips, toys, books, tuition, tutoring, or SAT prep. These “add-on” expenses are usually paid pro rata in addition to basic child support. In other words, for our example, Chris would pay 80% and Sandy would pay 20% of these.
So, realistically, Chris will pay Sandy $1,869/month for basic child support PLUS Chris will pay 80% of the add-on expenses.
The statute speaks about a cap for combined parental income — currently $148,000 in NY. This number works for people who live in upstate New York. But, the reality is that in New York City and surrounding counties (like Westchester and Long Island), the cap that courts use for combined parental income can be much higher, often around $300,000 or $350,000. The case law does vary on this, but these are the numbers I tend to use and they are quite standard.
We recently changed our calculator to make it possible to use the adjusted combined parental income caps. The calculator is more flexible now, you can enter in your own number for the cap.
I hope this helps to clarify how the child support figures are determined. Should you have additional questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me via email.
Joy S. Rosenthal, Esq.
Rosenthal Law & Mediation
225 Broadway, Suite 2605
New York, New York 10007
Phone : 212.532.4704
*Family Court Act, Section 413, and Domestic Relations Law Section 240