Do I Have to Pay Child Support if We Have Joint Custody?
We are often asked, “If my ex and I have joint physical custody of our kids, do I still have to pay child support?” The short answer is yes, there is often child support when parents share custody of their kids. Read on to learn more — and for the exceptions.
Joint or Shared Physical Custody & Child Support
Many Connecticut families have a parenting plan with joint (or “shared”) physical custody, and there is often still child support.
This is because Connecticut uses an “income shares model” for child support. The Connecticut theory is that a child should receive the same proportion of parental income as he or she would have received if the parents lived together. In other words, even when parents have joint custody, there may be child support moving from the higher-earning parent to the lower-earning parent.
Child Support Calculation in Joint Custody Cases
Pursuant to the Guidelines, in a joint physical custody situation, “the presumptive current support order shall equal the presumptive current support amount of the parent with the higher net weekly income, payable to the parent with the lower net weekly income.”
And even that’s not the end of the story.
“Shared physical custody” is one of the deviation criteria available under the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines. A “deviation” occurs when there is a lower or higher child support award than calculation under the Guidelines. This often happens because the parties agree to a deviation and the judge orders it. It can also happen in a high-conflict litigation where a Judge decides that the calculation under the Guidelines would be inequitable or inappropriate in a particular case. Read: What’s the Difference Between Shared Custody and Split Custody? Read: Do We Have to Follow the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines?
Joint Custody Deviation from the Child Support Guidelines
Under the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines, when a shared physical custody arrangement exists, it may be appropriate to deviate from presumptive support amounts if:
The arrangement substantially:
- reduces expenses for the child, for the parent with the lower net weekly income, or
- increases expenses for the child, for the parent with the higher net weekly income; and
- sufficient funds remain for the parent receiving support to meet the needs of the child after deviation; or
- both parents have substantially equal income.
50% of Child’s Time at Each Parent’s House
A common understanding is that if their child spends at least 50% of her time at a parent’s house, child support is eliminated.
That’s not the case.
The Commission that drafts the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines rejects the notion of a mathematical formula based on the time children spend with each parent to determine support amounts in the shared physical custody context.
The Commission writes: “Application of such a formula would tend to shift the focus away from the best interests of the child and more toward financial considerations, which would be inconsistent with Connecticut law.”
Joint Physical Custody Definition
Just as it rejects a formula based upon percentages, the Commission also rejects a “bright-line” definition of shared custody to “discourage disputes over time-sharing as a means of affecting support amounts.”
They do write that “a finding of shared physical custody should be made only where each parent exercises physical care and control of the child for periods substantially in excess of two overnights on alternate weekends, alternate holidays, some vacation time, and other visits of short duration, which may occasion an overnight stay during the week. While periods substantially in excess of this schedule are required for a finding of shared physical custody, the commission emphasizes that an equal time-sharing is not required for such finding.”
The Commission leaves it to Courts to determine “what precise level of sharing is sufficient to warrant a deviation from presumptive support amounts.”