Child Support Guidelines
Heath Gosselin filed to reduce the child support to his ex-wife, Kathryn Page. In NH child support cases, the first thing the Judge always has to do is calculate the “guidelines“. Using the income of both parents, and tables provided by law, the Judge figures out the guidelines number. The Judge should start with the presumption that the guidelines number will be the child support figure. The Judge, however, can vary from the guidelines (either up or down), but only when there is a good reason. The question raised by this case is – how should a Judge change child support when there is equal custody?
Child Support Cut to $0
In this case, the Judge calculated the guidelines amount of support at $529 per month. Then, however, he “varied” from the guidelines figure by reducing Heath’s child support to $0. Not only that, but the Judge ordered that the $0 support was retroactive to 2012, which is was when the petition to reduce the support was first filed. Furthermore, the Judge ordered that Kathryn must reimburse Heath for all the support she had received during this four-year period.
The Judge had two reasons for ordering no child support. First, Heath had 43% of the total custody. Not quite 50-50, but close. Second, Kathryn’s boyfriend paid for their mortgage and heating bill. So, her expenses were much lower than his. The New Hampshire Supreme Court, however, reversed the order. The Court felt that the Judge did not give enough reason to eliminate child support. The Court also held that there was little basis to force Kathryn to pay back the years worth of support that she had been received.
How Much Child Support Should When the Parents Have Equal Custody?
How should courts calculate child support in cases when the parents have equal custody? Lawmakers designed NH child support guidelines back in an age when courts usually gave the mother primary custody, and the father weekends. Equal custody was uncommon. Over the years, though, things have changed, and now equal custody orders are much more common. If one party makes much more than the other, then it seems fair that some child support should be paid. But requiring the full amount of support seems unfair.
In these situations the parties often reach a settlement that involves calculating child support guidelines both ways. First as if the father has primary custody and then as if the mother did. After that, the Judge will take the difference between the two figures and use that for child support. If the New Hampshire Supreme Court reviewed this solution, it is unclear whether it would consider it acceptable. Our view is that lawmakers should give better guidance to courts in how to calculate child support when there is equal custody. It would definitely make life for your average NH child support lawyer much easier!
Update: Since we wrote this post, the NH Supreme Court posted another similar decision. For our thoughts on that one, click here.