Parents have a dual legal obligation to provide ongoing financial support to help cover the costs of raising their child. In Missouri, it is assumed that a parent who is given physical custody of a child (custodial parent) has fulfilled this duty of support directly. The non-custodial parent's duty of support is fulfilled through child support.
Child support is a court-ordered agreement for a non-custodial parent to make payments to a custodial parent to fulfill his or her duty of financial support to the child. It is a way to ensure a child is adequately provided for by both parents. These matters are customarily resolved following the establishment of paternity or during the process of a divorce.
Child support cases can be incredibly emotional. Parents going through a divorce or separation are likely dealing with other matters, like custody, paternity, or property division. If you are planning on undergoing a child support proceeding, you should retain an experienced family law attorney. Child support attorneys at the Higher Level Legal Law Firm have extensive experience helping parents who have been in your predicament prevail in court.
Determining Child Support in Missouri
In Missouri, the courts calculate child support using a complicated method dictated by statutory regulations. This calculation is made using the Missouri Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, also referred to as “Form 14.” Other considerations not on Form 14 may be considered depending on the case.
The main factor used to calculate the amount a parent could potentially pay for child support is one's “gross income.” Both parents are required to complete this form and submit it to the court. Gross income includes all income -- either earned or unearned -- that exists before any deductions are taken out.
In order to properly calculate gross income, parties must provide information relating to different financial circumstances, including:
- Respective incomes
- Veterans' disability benefits
- Financial obligations to the child
- Severance pay
- Uninsured medical costs
- Number of children
- Retirement benefits
- Maintenance (alimony) either paid or received
- Wages and commissions
- Social security benefits
- Unemployment compensation
- Partnership distributions
- Military allowances for subsistence and quarters.
Though Form 14 is standard, each child support case is different. If it is necessary, gross income can also include overtime compensation, recurring capital gains, earnings for secondary employment, prizes, substantial employment-related benefits, and other additional forms of income.
There are also statutory factors a judge takes into account when determining a spouse's obligation to pay child support and the specified amount that must be paid given the enforcement of court-ordered child support payments. These statutory factors include (but are not limited to):
- The current financial needs and resources of the child
- The current financial needs and resources of each parent
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved or if there would not have been a separation
- The physical and emotional state of a child along with a child's educational needs
- The current physical and legal custody arrangement, including quality time a child spends with each parent and the expenses that accompany these arrangements
- The reasonable work-related child care expenses of each parent.
Modifying Child Support
Parents must have a good reason why child support payments should be increased or decreased after a finalized order. If a there is a substantial and continuing change in financial circumstances OR if there is a 20% difference in the presumed child support amount, then said parent can ask the court to modify child support payments. Missouri courts tend to only deviate from guidelines when a parent experiences a significant change that has a direct impact on his or her ability to make payments. Moreover, the court must make a factual finding that the presumed child support amount is "unjust and inappropriate" under the circumstances.
One of the most common and compelling reasons for modifying an agreement is the loss of employment. However, unemployment alone may not always be enough to alter a child support agreement. The court will review all financial resources, including contributions from another spouse or partner or earning capacity (based on education, skills, employment opportunities, job history, etc.) when determining whether or not to alter a child support order.
Missouri Family Law Attorney
Child support orders are highly individualized and vary based on the circumstances of each case. Child Support attorneys at The Higher Level Legal Law Firm have extensive knowledge of the complex nature of child support cases. His main priority is to ensure the court's determination reflects your contributions as a parent. But more importantly, we wish to ensure your order is finalized with the best interests of your child in mind. Your children should not have to suffer the financial repercussions of your divorce or separation. Contact us today at (816) 331-9968 for a consultation.