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Who Pays Child Support in Joint Custody?

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Child Custody Negotiations

Child custody arrangements can be complex and emotional for all parties involved. When parents decide to part ways and share custody of their children, questions often arise about child support responsibilities.

Joint or shared custody typically involves parents sharing equal or substantial parenting time. This shared responsibility extends to child support, but who pays child support in joint custody situations?

Types of Joint Custody

Joint custody, as the name suggests, involves both parents actively participating in the upbringing of their children. In some arrangements, children spend roughly equal time with both parents and share decision-making responsibilities.

In many cases, joint custody involves a combination of both physical and legal custody. Joint custody arrangements aim to provide children with stability and meaningful relationships with both parents, regardless of the parent’s marital status.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the authority to decide on significant issues affecting a child’s upbringing, such as their schooling, health care, and religious upbringing. Both parents may receive it jointly, or just one parent may receive it.

Physical Custody

Where the child lives and spends their time depends on who has physical custody. Parenting time, commonly referred to as visitation rights, refers to the non-custodial parent’s privilege to see their child while they do not have physical custody. Here at Hepner &Pagan, LLP, we refer to use parenting time or on-duty/off-duty parent when it comes to physical custody allocation.

Child Support and Joint Custody

Child support is a financial obligation for one or both parents to support their child’s well-being. In the case of joint custody, child support is not as straightforward as it is in sole custody cases, where one parent usually pays the other a set amount.

The underlying principle of child support is that it should help maintain the child’s standard of living and ensure their basic needs are met. The determination of child support in joint custody hinges on several key factors:

Income of Both Parents

One of the primary factors in determining child support is the income of both parents. In a joint custody situation, parents’ incomes are assessed, and child support is usually calculated based on the difference between their earnings. The idea is to ensure that the child enjoys a similar standard of living in both households.

Percentage of Parenting Time

The percentage of time each parent spends with the child plays a significant role in determining child support. In many joint custody cases, the parent with fewer overnights pays the child support to the other. The more equal the parenting time, the less likely child support payments will be required.

Child’s Needs

The specific needs and expenses of the child are also taken into account. These expenses may include healthcare, education, extracurricular activities, and childcare. The courts will assess these needs to ensure that they are covered adequately.

State Guidelines

Child support guidelines vary by state in the United States, so the specific rules and formulas for calculating child support payments may differ from one jurisdiction to another. Courts often use these guidelines as a starting point to determine child support.

Legal Framework

Child support is typically calculated according to state-specific guidelines in joint custody cases. These guidelines vary from state to state. In joint custody cases, parents must consult their state’s child support agency or a family law attorney to understand how child support is determined in their jurisdiction.

Some parents choose to negotiate child support agreements outside of the court system. These agreements can be informal or formal, allowing parents to tailor child support arrangements to their unique circumstances. However, these agreements must adhere to state guidelines and be approved by a court to ensure they are legally enforceable.

Mediation and Collaboration

Mediation or collaborative approaches can be beneficial when parents struggle to agree on child support arrangements. Mediation involves a neutral third party helping parents reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Collaborative law, on the other hand, involves attorneys who work together with both parents to find a resolution that suits everyone.

These methods encourage parents to find common ground, which can result in more sustainable and less contentious child support arrangements.

Deviating from State Guidelines

In some cases, parents may seek to deviate from state child support guidelines if they believe that the guidelines do not adequately reflect their unique situation. Courts may allow deviations from these guidelines if both parents agree and present a compelling case. 

Common reasons for seeking deviations include:

  • Educational expenses: Parents may agree to allocate additional educational support if a child has unique educational needs or aspirations.
  • Special needs: Children with special medical, emotional, or developmental needs may require additional financial support.
  • Income disparity: If there is a significant income disparity between the parents, the higher-earning parent may be required to pay more in child support.
  • Shared expenses: Parents may agree to cover specific costs outside the standard child support payments, such as extracurricular activities or healthcare.

The Importance of Peaceful Negotiation

In joint custody arrangements, child support is a critical aspect that aims to ensure the child’s well-being while preserving both parents’ active involvement in their upbringing. Parents must understand the factors influencing child support, consult their state’s guidelines, and explore collaborative options to reach a fair and sustainable agreement.

Navigating child support in joint custody can be emotionally charged. If parents struggle to reach an agreement, seek legal counsel to help negotiate. An attorney can help create a child support agreement that outlines the specifics of child support, expense sharing, and dispute resolution. Working through lawyers can help reduce conflicts and provide a sense of security that both parents and the child have their legal interests represented.

Hepner & Pagan is here to help find a peaceful resolution. Schedule a consultation today by calling 408-688-9153.

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