We previously wrote about how much money a parent should have to pay in child support should be paid when they have equal, or close to equal, custody.
Another Supreme Court Case
Since that last post, the New Hampshire Supreme Court looked at this again. In the Silva case, the parents agreed to an equal parenting plan. The Judge ordered the father to pay child support. The “guidelines” amount of support, based on the father’s income, was $1,590 per month. The Judge, however, reduced the father’s child support down to $533.80. Since the parents shared equal parenting time, this strikes us as eminently reasonable. The New Hampshire Supreme Court, however, disagreed.
The statute on point says that when there is equal custody, the Judge can vary from the guidelines amount of child support by considering three thing. The first factor is how the parents shared “variable” expenses such as school, clothing, and medical bills. The second factor is whether the equal custody will reduce the lower-income parent’s the “fixed costs”. The third factor is whether the lower income parent has enough income to raise the children in a similar style as the higher income parent.
The Supreme Court found that none of the factors supported the Judge’s decision to reduce the child support. For example, Court found that the equal parenting plan did not reduce any of the mother’s “fixed costs,” such as for housing.
Lack of Clarity as to What Child Support Should be in an Equal Custody Situation …
From this case, it is difficult to see when equal custody could merit a reduction in child support. This is an unfortunate result. Historically, using a common-sense approach, many parents have agreed to reduce child support instead of going to court and having the Judge decide. Now there may be less reason for the lower-income parent to settle in these situations. Sadly, there may also be less reason for a higher-income parent to push for equal parenting time if it does not lead to less child support.
Hopefully our predictions are unfounded. However, it seems that close to equal parenting plans are becoming more of the norm than the exception. It would therefore be wise for the legislature to review this situation. It would be nice if the law gave more clarity so parents with equal custody would know exactly how much child support the Courts will expect them to pay (or receive).