THE BASICS OF DC CHILD SUPPORT
In Washington, D.C. both parents have a legal obligation to provide support for their children.
The amount of support owed by each is determined using a guideline formula that looks at a number of factors including, number of children requiring support, percentage of time the children reside with each parent, gross income of each parent from all sources, health insurance payments, and childcare costs to name a few. DC Code Section 16-916.01.
How is child support determined in the District of Columbia?
While not an exhaustive list, the following factors are taken into account:
- The number of days the child is with each parent (custody)
- The number of children
- The income of mother and father
- The cost of work-related childcare
- The cost of health insurance coverage for the children
The guidelines are essentially a mathematical formula that takes into account the needs of the child in the District of Columbia. The guideline is presumptive, meaning that unless you show otherwise, the Court will assume that your family's needs will be best met by ordering the amount provided by the guideline's calculation.
However, the statute also provides for families that don't have such a tidy measure of child support. Issues could include medical problems, fluctuating income, bankruptcy, high net worth, and inheritances.
For those families, the Court is able to look at the nuances of the parties' financial lives to determine where child support should be set. In complicated situations, trial is likely if the parties disagree about a monthly amount. It is important to speak to a DC lawyer to determine whether your family can expect to apply the presumptive guidelines, and determine a likely monthly amount.
Imputed Income on Voluntarily Underemployed or Unemployed Parent
Is your former spouse refusing to get a job or work full time? The Court can impute an income on a parent found to be “voluntarily unemployed or underemployed” due to bad faith or to avoid child support obligations. Meaning the Court can attribute an income to your ex in the child support guideline calculations even though they are not actually making money or that amount of money.
As stated above, EVERY parent has a legal obligation to financially support their children.
Now if your ex stayed home for 10 years as a stay at home dad or mom, has little education and/or work experience, then the Court will most likely not find them to be voluntarily underemployed or unemployed and are not likely to impute an income, at least not initially.
Additionally, in the example described above you may likely have to pay alimony for a period of time. At your 3 year child support review the Court may expect that parent to be able to show that they have made a good faith effort to obtain appropriate employment depending on the custody situation and their obligations to the children.
However, if your ex went to Harvard, speaks multiple languages, has numerous graduate degrees, and years of work history but is refusing to do anything other than babysit 5 hours a week they are likely to be found to be voluntarily underemployed and a DC Court is likely to impute an income on them.
The individual described here is highly skilled and employable, and even though (s)he may prefer to stay home with the children full time and not work, the court is not likely to allow it since (s)he too has a legal obligation to financially support his/her children.
Except for cases involving very young children not yet in school, or children with serious medical issues requiring a parent to stay home, an income will almost certainly be imputed on someone like the above described underemployed parent at the initial hearing - and likely a higher one at the 3 year review. It is important to consult with a DC Child Support Lawyer prior to the 3 year mark to plan how best to present this in Court.
How does the Court determine what kind of income to impute on a “voluntarily underemployed or unemployed” parent?
The Court will look at his/her educational background, degrees, specialized certifications, skills, employment history, length since last employment, prior salaries, as well as his/her efforts, if any, to obtain employment commensurate with his/her qualifications.
It is important to address this issue properly the first time you appear in Court in DC. This is often done by hiring an expert to testify as to the unemployed or underemployed parent's earning potential based on his/her educational background and prior work history.
If you fail to address the issue properly or for any reason and the judge fails to impute an income, or imputes what you believe to be an unreasonably low income, you will have to wait another 3 years to file for modification to get another chance to address it again before the Court.
This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of child support for many people. Most parents don't have an issue paying to support their children, but being forced to pay unfairly high amounts because the other parent simply refuses to get the kind of job they are qualified for is another story.
Gross Income For the Purposes of Calculating Child Support in DC
As explained above, the Washington D.C., Child Support Guideline provides the framework for child support calculations. The child support obligation is tabulated by first entering each parent's gross income and applying credits to each party when applicable.
Child support is based on the combined gross income of the mother and father. DC Code Section 16-916.01 addresses what kinds of income are included:
- Salary or wages (including overtime, tips, bonuses, severance pay, awards, commissions, use of a company car, reimbursed meals, food allowances, etc);
- Interest or dividends, capital gains;
- Unemployment compensation and worker's compensation;
- Pensions, annuities, income from trusts and life insurance;
- Social Security
- Lottery winnings
- Rental income and contracts
As you will notice, the Code addresses numerous sources of income for a person. Even reimbursed meals from work are included! So how does one determine whether she or he is getting an honest appraisal of the other party's income?
The Court allows the parties to participate in discovery (the exchange of information prior to trial). In some cases, the father and mother may not be aware of the entire extent of the money coming in at the time of separation. Discovery is crucial in those cases because individuals may have an incentive to hide money.
When it comes to issues of Child Support in DC it is crucial to consult with an attorney to help you prepare your case. On average, when compared to another state like Virginia, a parent paying child support in DC will end up paying in total the equivalent of an extra 3 years of child support. There are numerous things that contribute to this disparity but the bottom line is whether you are negotiating an amount or preparing for trial the advice of an experienced DC Child Support Lawyer can make a huge difference in your life for years to come. Contact us now to schedule a free confidential consultation.