In New York State, child support is generally calculated pursuant to the Child Support Standards Act, a/k/a the CSSA. The CSSA is contained in DRL § 240 and also in FCA § 413. A formulaic approach, with certain additional considerations, is used to calculate the basic child support obligation for parents to their children.
Generally speaking, the gross income of the two parents is used in the calculation. From the gross income of each parent, certain amounts are first deducted, such as FICA actually paid, and maintenance paid to a spouse (and several other permissible sums set forth in the statute). The adjusted gross incomes of the parents is then added together to make a combined adjusted parental income. The pro rata percentage of each parent is determined (for instance, did one parent provide 60% of the total combined income and the other parent 40%, or did each contribute 50%). The combined parental income (up to $80,000, sometimes called the “cap”) is then multiplied by a percentage dependent upon the number of children to be supported (17% for one child, 25% for two children, 29% for three children, etc.) to yield the basic annual child support obligation. Each parent is then responsible for his or her pro rata percentage of the basic support obligation. There are other factors that a court may consider to deviate from the basic obligation (often referred to as the “F-Factors” as they are contained in subparagraph f) but that is a topic for another day. There are other components to the CSSA, beyond the basic support obligation, such as unreimbursed health care expenses, mandatory add-ons, life insurance to secure one’s child support obligation, and several others, which are also beyond the scope of this blog entry.
Once calculated, child support generally flows from the non-custodial parent tot he custodial parent. In some situations where there is true shared custody, with an equal 50-50 share of parenting time with the child(ren), child support flows from the parent with greater income to the parent with lesser income.
Considering the above, one can see that if there is significant income greater than $80,000 per year for the two parents, the child support calculation will yield a number considerably lower than if the calculation had been done without applying the $80,000 cap. The legislature has recognized this and effective January 31, 2010, the cap will be increased to $130,000. The bill was signed into law as the Child Support Modernization Act on August 11, 2009.
Starting in 2012, the Child Support Modernization Act provides for a biannual readjustment of the “cap” based upon changes in the Consumer Price Index thereafter. All I can say, is I sincerely hope that inflation does not take off after we emerge from our current recession!
The new Act has many more provisions, but the increase to the cap has been a long time in coming. The $80,000 cap of the CSSA has not been increased since the statute’s introduction approximately 20 years ago. What does this mean to Mr. & Mrs. Average upstate New Yorker who still make about $40,000 each… not much. What does this mean to the P. Diddy’s of the world, with more annual income than most small towns… not much. I think that this increase of the cap will most effect the upper middle class, the professionals, the nurses, the physician assistants, the small business owners, the people who have combined income in the $130,000 to $250,000 range. It sounds great for the children of divorce, and they deserve the benefits that this act will provide. But those upper middle class people, who are living paycheck to paycheck (yes, I can hear you groaning, $130,000 a year and living paycheck to paycheck, cry me a river), they will feel the impact more than the working poor and the P.Diddy’s.