In Utah, both parents have a duty to support their children financially. When parents are divorced or never married each other, that support is allocated using the Utah child support guidelines. The guidelines take into account the parents’ adjusted gross incomes, the number of children for whom support is needed, and how much time the children spend with each parent.
Why have guidelines? In a nutshell, to make sure child support is fair, both to the parents and the child. As a general rule, applying the guidelines to calculate child support will yield an appropriate award. But child support is not a one-size fits all proposition, and sometimes, the amount of child support dictated by the child support guidelines is not appropriate.
Utah parents can agree to pay more child support than the guidelines tell them to. (They can’t agree to pay less; child support is an obligation owed to the child, and parents cannot bargain it away.) If parents can’t agree to an amount of child support, and one parent feels the amount recommended by the guidelines is unfair, he or she can seek a deviation from that amount.
You can’t just seek a deviation from the child support guidelines because the amount is more than you want to pay (or less than you want to receive). The guidelines are presumed to be correct, but that presumption can be rebutted. In other words, the guidelines are fair unless shown to be otherwise.
The Utah Code, Section 78B-12-210 (3) states: “A written finding or specific finding on the record supporting the conclusion that complying with a provision of the guidelines or ordering an award amount resulting from use of the guidelines would be unjust, inappropriate, or not in the best interest of a child in a particular case is sufficient to rebut the presumption in that case. If an order rebuts the presumption through findings, it is considered a deviated order.”
The Utah child support worksheet lists reasons for deviation, such as an absence of need on the part of the custodial parent, property settlement, or excessive debt from the marriage. In practice, however, deviations from the child support guidelines are rarely, if ever, granted on these bases. In practice, when a court deviates from the guidelines, the deviation is almost always upward, not downward, so that the child receives a greater amount of child support than the guidelines recommend. Often, the parents will stipulate (agree) to an upward deviation.
If the court finds that support based on the guidelines would be unfair for some reason, it will determine support after evaluating the following factors, found in Utah Code Section 76B-12-202(3):
Speaking of courts, it is worth noting that only courts can grant a deviation from the child support guidelines. Utah agencies such as the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) do not have the authority to grant a deviation downward from the guideline-recommended amount of support.
Utah law provides few reasons that downward deviation from the child support guidelines might be appropriate. In general, courts prefer to stick to the guidelines unless doing so would be clearly unfair. The guidelines are designed to cover the needs of the vast majority of families. Deviations are granted only in exceptional circumstances, and downward deviations are extremely rare.
If you believe that it would be appropriate to seek a deviation, an experienced Utah family law attorney can help. A family law attorney can help you understand how the law would apply to your specific circumstances, and whether it makes sense to seek a deviation. If you and your attorney decide that a deviation is worth pursuing, your attorney will help you gather and present evidence in support of your case so that the court is most likely to accept it. We invite you to contact Barton Wood to discuss any questions you have about deviation from the Utah child support guidelines.