SUPPORT AND OTHER FINANCIAL ISSUES
By Brian Thomasson
Wait, wait, wait - I have to pay how much?!?
Now that we have your attention, let's talk about something that most people don't want to hear - how much you may or may not have to pay in support. At a later date, we will go into more depth about the different types of support but for now let's just give a general overview.
There are generally two types of support in Virginia - child and spousal support. We will start with child support because that is the simpler of the two to explain. "Child support" is a term that is used when money has to be paid to the custodian of the child to help provide and care for the child. Support is calculated using a formula that was created by the Virginia Legislature to is essentially a spread sheet. In a nutshell, it takes the gross income (meaning before any withholding) of both parents and the number of children involved then that is the base for the "amount it costs monthly" to support a child. There are some deductions from gross income that may be applicable, however, that is for another post. The percentages of the gross income are calculated for each party (meaning how much towards the total each parent makes - example, if Father makes $5,000 and Mother makes $5,000, then the total gross income is $10,000, and support is $1,500, each party will provide $750 or 50% of support) and that is the amount each party is to pay. Now, the person "receiving" support does not have to pay themselves support so it is presumed that is what they are paying indirectly (food, shelter, clothing, etc). Also factored into support are work related child care costs as well as health insurance. There are credits and debits that can be calculated, however, that too is for another post. These numbers are pretty hard and fast meaning you, your lawyer nor the Judge will rarely be able to do something different. The Judge does have the authority to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines and one can ask for a deviation but this is normally the exception not the rule. Child support is money for the child or children; it is not the parent's money. While it may feel or seem like the receiving parent's money, it is the child's money. Do not forget this. And while the number may stink for the payor, you always have to remember that this is for your child and your child needs this money.
There are consequences for not paying child support or not paying all of your child support. Penalties can include deductions from a paycheck, having to pay additional money to "catch up", attorney's fees, loss of your driver's license, loss of any professional license and even jail. We often hear people say "Well I can't pay if I'm in jail" but in reality if you are not paying then what is the difference and where is the harm?
Spousal support is a different beast. Most payors hate paying spousal support. Why? Well you are probably getting divorce for a reason and the thought of having to pay your ex really doesn't make most people happy. As it pertains to the amount of spousal support, the calculations are different and the Court has more flexibility. Again it starts with gross income. The monthly gross income of each party is calculated to come up with a baseline. The Court can do a simple calculation using the "Fairfax Guidelines" to come up with a number. This a percentage of the payor's income minus a percentage of the payee's income and the difference is support. This is a common methodology used by the Courts and, in some cases, the required methodology. It is simple, clean and easy for the Court. It also stinks because it doesn't account for bills. So not only does the payor owe support but the payor may still have bills to pay and now there isn't enough money to go around. Another method is by use of the Income and Expenses of each of the parties. This gives the Court more latitude as it is supposed to account for "real life" and the bills of the parties. In our opinion, Courts don't always like this as people can fudge their numbers (who knows for sure how much a person spends a month on birthday or holiday gifts?). We do like to have these numbers handy to ask the Court for consideration that life and money do not always equate and, quite candidly, there are times when people live together and live beyond their means.
Different from child support, spousal support is not a hard and fast number. The Court has the authority to pick a number that it deems appropriate. This is where arguments matter. Knowledge of the law and the facts are important and, perhaps, crucial.
Again, there are consequences for not paying spousal support. One is looking at, perhaps, paying more money, wage withholding, inability to modify based upon a change in income and even jail.
Lastly and very importantly, SUPPORT DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY END! There are often times an end date to support, however, if it was Court Ordered YOU MUST go to Court to terminate the Order. Do not stop paying. Our advice is that approximately two months before the "end date", you start the process of ending support.
If you would like more information or have questions, as always feel free to call us at 757-454-2110 to set an appointment to discuss this matter further. Do not take this as legal advice but rather a general overview of child and spousal support. Each case is different so for more specifics about your situation, please contact a competent attorney (whether it is us or someone else) to get information about your situation.