How is Child Support Determined in Utah?
Whenever married parents of minor children divorce or unmarried parents separate into different households, child support becomes an issue. Unlike many issues in divorce, like property division and alimony, child support is not something that parents can simply agree on. Child support is an obligation owed to the child by the parents, and parents cannot bargain it away between themselves. Most parents are concerned about how child support will affect their finances. The Utah Department of Human Services offers a child support calculator to help you get an idea of what your child support will be. However, the best way to know what child support will be, especially when parental income is not regular, is to consult a family law attorney.
If you have ever wondered, “How is child support calculated in Utah?” here is some information to help you understand what to expect.
How is Child Support Determined?
The two basic building blocks of a child support calculation: each parent’s gross monthly income, and the number of overnights the child spends with each parent. Other factors affect the final calculation of child support as well.
What is included in gross monthly income? Obviously, salary or wages from a job are included. Other things that are a part of monthly gross income include:
- Rental income
- Income from a trust
- Unemployment compensation
- Social Security benefits
- Military pay
- Gifts and prizes, such as lottery winnings
Certain government benefits do not have to be included in monthly gross income, like welfare benefits and housing subsidies. If you wonder if a source of income should be counted toward your monthly gross income, take a look at Utah Code § 78B-12-203 for guidance.
Parents cannot simply assert that they earn a certain amount of income. They must document the amount of their income to the court using pay stubs, income tax returns, and employer statements if necessary. For some people, income is irregular or unpredictable. In our “gig economy,” an increasingly large number of people do not receive a paycheck with the same amount every pay period.
Unfortunately, some parents try to use this to their advantage by underreporting their earnings. The other parent can file a Declaration of Other Parent’s Earnings to describe what they know about the other parent’s earnings and the basis for their knowledge. If a parent is not working or is intentionally underemployed, the court may assume they are capable of earning a certain amount for the purposes of calculating child support. That is known as “imputing” income to a parent.
If a child spends at least 111 nights per year in the home of each parent, the parents are said to have joint physical custody. If one parent has more than 254 overnights per year with the child, that parent is considered to have sole physical custody. Less commonly, a family will have multiple children and some of the children will live with each parent, a situation referred to as “split custody.” If one parent has sole custody of a child, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent.
Three Components of Utah Child Support
As in most states, Utah child support is determined by guidelines that are established by statute. There are three components to Utah child support:
- Base child support
- Medical care
- Child care expenses
You can get a sense of how base child support is calculated by looking at the table located in Utah Code Section 78B-12-301. One axis of the table lists ranges for parents’ monthly combined adjusted gross income; the other shows numbers of children in the family. The intersection of the two shows the amount of monthly base child support.
For example, let’s consider a situation in which parents have joint physical custody (each parent has at least 111 overnights with the children). Parents with $5,000 in adjusted monthly gross income and two children would have a base child support amount of $1,175. Each parent would owe a portion of that amount in proportion to their respective incomes. The parents’ ultimate shares of child support will depend on their respective incomes, the number of overnights each parent has with the children, and other factors included in the joint physical custody child support worksheet.
If health insurance is available for the children through one parent’s employment or otherwise, the parents share the expense of health insurance premiums and other medical expenses equally. Similarly, if child care is necessary so that the parents can work, they will equally share child care expenses.
Deviations from Child Support Guidelines
While child support in Utah is generally awarded according to the child support guidelines, there are occasionally situations in which it would be unfair or inappropriate to use the guidelines to determine child support. In those cases, the court may order a deviation from the child support guidelines. When the court decides to deviate from the child support guidelines, the deviation is usually for an amount more than the guidelines would have required.
Parents can also agree to pay a different amount than that recommended by the child support guidelines if they can show the court that it would be appropriate and fair to do so. In general, parents can decide that the amount of child support will be higher than that dictated by the guidelines, but they cannot agree to pay less.
Child support calculation has a lot of moving parts, and calculating child support can be a complex process. If you have questions about how to determine child support in Utah that were not answered by this article, we invite you to contact Barton Wood to schedule a consultation to discuss your unique situation.
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