Almost everyone has been touched by divorce in some way, so it is not surprising that that so many well-meaning friends and family are eager to give out legal advice during a separation. Unfortunately, their advice is not always accurate or helpful. One commonly repeated myth is that if the parents share equal custody, then no one has to pay child support.
It is not uncommon for clients to come see a lawyer and say, “I want shared custody so I don’t have to pay child support”, or the flip side of that “my ex only wants 50/50 custody so they do not have to pay child support”. Shared custody does not mean there will be no child support. In shared custody situations, the parent with a higher income will generally pay some child support to the lower earning parent.
Child Support is paid from one parent to another when the family separates or divorces. The Child Support Guidelines dictate the amount of child support to be paid based on the number of children and the income of the parent. In cases where the parents share custody equally, both parents’ child support payments are calculated according to the guidelines, and the difference between them is paid to the parent with lower income (this is often called the “set-off” amount.)
In cases where one parent has custody of the children less than 40% of the time, they must pay the full amount set out in the guidelines to the other parent.
The courts have been moving away the term “custody” and prefer to use gentler terms like “primary care” and “parenting time” to reduce friction in families when they rely on the court to make decisions in the best interest of their children. Child support is not about which parent needs to pay more but about assuring that a child is supported financially. So, a child should benefit from the incomes of both parents, regardless of who they live with.
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