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Michigan’s child support formula isn’t always up to the task

| Mar 24, 2017 | Family Law |

Like many other states, Michigan uses a child support formula to determine each parent’s financial obligation toward their child.

The total financial support needed for basics, like food, shelter and clothing, as well as additional needs like medical expenses and child care costs, are added together. Each parent’s income is then factored against those needs, and each parent is assigned a percentage of the total needed support as his or her responsibility.

In order to understand how this works in practice, imagine the following scenario: The child’s monthly needs are determined to cost $1,000 a month. Both parents’ incomes are calculated and fed into the formula. The mother has the higher income but also has primary physical custody of the child. The formula says that she should be responsible for 75 percent of the child’s monthly expenses. That leaves the father responsible for the remaining 25 percent, or $250 per month, which he would have to pay in support to the mother.

In theory, it’s an easy enough system. In reality, it may not be so simple. A number of factors can skew the formula in a way that seems unfair, particularly if one parent has income that fluctuates widely due to self-employment, bonuses or commissions. The formula can also be inadequate when there are issues like equally-shared physical custody, a parent with unusual medical expenses, a remarried parent with an unemployed or disabled spouse, the payment of health insurance premiums out of one parent’s paycheck and which parent gets to use the child as a tax deduction.

The court can deviate from the formula if it finds that the formula would give an “unjust or inappropriate result,” but you generally have to ask the court for a more thorough examination. In many cases, a Friend of the Court (FOC) will be appointed to hear arguments from both sides about what a fair split of support should be based on all the facts. Unlike the judge, the FOC can take the time to conduct an investigation and look at all the financial evidence from both sides before making a recommendation about support that is, hopefully, a lot more appropriate.

If you don’t think that the support you’re supposed to pay or receive is fair, an attorney can provide advice on how to get the court to consider a more thorough examination of the issue.

Source: Michigan Legislature, “Friend Of The Court Act (Excerpt) Act 294 of 1982,” accessed March 24, 2017

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