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The Arkansas State Legislature passed House Bill 1802 in April 2019 to amend Arkansas Code § 9-12-312(a) (4) concerning how child support is calculated. In the past, child support has been calculated based solely on the income of the parent paying child support. As of the effective date of the act, child support is calculated based on both parents’ income, this is also known as an Income Shares Model developed by the Child Support Guidelines of the National Center for State Courts. This model is the most widely used among states in the US. It is based on the concept that the child(ren) should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together. The model was developed based on the best available economic data on expenditures related to raising children. The guidance from the National Center for State Courts focuses on the impact of custody decisions on children. This includes things like the “best interests” standards.

As I mentioned above, the new bill amended the existing child support laws to revise the family support chart. The Chart reflects the average amount of money that families in the United States spend on their children with consideration for the cost of living compared to that of the nation. Other things the Chart considers are:

  • Federal and state income taxes and FICA;
  • Average expenditures related to child-rearing using current measurements developed by the third study of the Rothbarth methodology conducted by Professor David Betson of the University of Notre Dame. The method separates the children’s share of expenses from total expenses.
  • Based on June 2019 price levels.
  • It is also considered to better accommodate adjustments for specific factors than the former percentage of obligated parent income guidelines model. Typical adjustments are additional children that a parent has a legal duty to support, shared parenting time, parents with limited ability to pay, health care cost variances, and many other factors.
  • Exclusions to the chart are:
    • Child care
    • The child’s portion of health insurance premiums
    • Extraordinary, out-of-pocket medical expenses over the course of the year for things such as medication, cough syrup, or co-pays. These items are considered on a case-by-case basis. For example, a child suffering from a long-term illness will have more medical expenses than a healthy child and that should and will be considered by the courts.

 

Here is a down and dirty example of calculating child support based on the Income Shares model. The obligated parent’s gross income is $3,000 and the custodial parent’s gross income is $2,000 for a combined net income of $5,000. According to the Monthly Chart of Basic Support Obligations, the monthly expenses for one child based on a combined monthly income of $5,000 is $737. The amount of support received by the custodial parent is calculated based on a pro-rated amount by dividing each parent’s portion of income in relation to the total income. The obligated parent’s income portion is 60 percent ($3,000/$6,000). Therefore, of the $737 estimated child-related expenses, he or she is responsible for 60 percent or $442. The additional expenses mentioned above are then added to that amount proportionately.  

The principle behind the amendment is that the financial responsibility of the children should be shared by the parents that have legal responsibility for the children and that child support guidelines should at least cover a child’s basic needs. However, if a parent enjoys a higher standard of living, the child should also enjoy that higher standard of living above his or her basic needs.

Additionally, the law includes a stipulation that the family support chart will be revised at least one time every four years by a committee that is appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to continue to ensure the support amounts are appropriate for child support awards.

This law went into effect on March 1, 2020. The new model applies to children of divorcing and separating parents, as well as parents that never married. All children are treated equally regardless of their parents’ decisions pertaining to marriage, divorce, and separation. As with all laws, there are many other caveats. Contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners for all your child support needs and for help interpreting the new laws.

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