How Is Child Support Calculated in Iowa?

In a divorce, circumstances surrounding children often arise as the most contentious issues that parents must deal with. Aside from complicated issues of custody and visitation, non-custodial parents, and also parents who share the physical care,  must also figure out how much money they owe to the other parent in the form of child support.

Because raising children is not cheap, child support frequently adds up to a large sum of money and can easily be overwhelming to the parent charged with paying it. While many factors go into a court’s calculation of child support, there are some basic rules applied along the way that prospective divorcees can consider.

What Information Do Courts Rely upon When Calculating Child Support in Cedar Rapids?

There are several key sources of information that courts rely upon when calculating child support for a child support order. First and foremost, they must look to the income of the parties involved. The court will use the parent’s gross income..

Where one parent has exclusive custody of children, the non-custodial parent will always be expected to pay child support to the custodial parent to help pay for things like clothes, food, education, medical bills, and activities.  Where the parents have shared physical custody, the court will still require the higher-earning parent to pay the lower-earning parent in order to equalize the burden of childcare. There are sometimes exceptions that could apply.

When courts consider income, they often look first to wages. While wages are a significant component of income, they are not the only component. Many individuals also receive income from rental units, investments, bonuses, or other forms of compensation. All of these are factored into a court’s analysis. Even spousal support awarded in a divorce becomes part of the income equation.

Courts also considers (1) the number of children who must be supported by the child support payments, (2) any existing child support or alimony obligations the non-custodial parent may have, and (3) if there are other children of either parent from a different relationship.

For obvious reasons, the more children that a couple has the more significant child support will be. Multiple children requires increased expenses and a non-custodial parent will be required to contribute more.

While courts want to make sure that parents pay their fair share, they are also cognizant of the fact that a parent still has to be able to buy his or her own food and keep a roof over his or her head. Thus, child support payments can’t be so large that they become impossible. However, the lawmakers in Iowa have factored that in to the mathematical formula.

For this reason, when considering a new child support payment, courts do look to payments already being made by the non-custodial parent. For example, if  the non-custodial parent has children from a prior marriage that he or she is supporting, or a former spouse who is receiving alimony, these amounts will also be factored into the calculation.

Reaching a Child Support Number

Once all of the information above is gathered, the courts then turn to the Child Support Guidelines set forth by the Iowa Supreme Court. These guidelines allow the courts to actually calculate and finalize a child support order.

The guidelines are quite complicated and should be consulted in detail in order to determine the exact amount of child support that must be paid. However, there is a basic approach that all courts use under the guidelines to begin the child support calculation process.

First, the courts determine the gross income of the parents (as mentioned above). The guidelines specifically provide how net income will be calculated.  Next, the courts look to the custodial arrangement to determine which parent will be assuming primary physical custody or if physical custody is shared.

The courts then apply a deduction to the non-custodial parent’s income for any other dependents that the non-custodial parent has. For example, if the non-custodial parent has one additional child, perhaps from another marriage, his or her income is reduced by 8 percent.

The court can then also apply a credit to the non-custodial parent if the non-custodial parent will have visitation of the child for more than 128 days in a year. Essentially, this is the court acknowledging that the non-custodial parent will be taking care of, and paying for, the child fairly often even if the child does not live with that parent.

The court will also take into account who is paying medical expenses or providing health insurance for the child, and whether either parent has existing child support obligations. Once the court reaches a final number for income based on all of these calculations, it can now turn to the Iowa child support guidelines table. This table sets forth, based on income, how much should be paid for child support for one or more children.

This amount is considered the presumptive child support obligation, but it may be modified upon a good showing of the parties. For example, if private school tuition is needed, the amount may be modified based on this information. Or if the child is special needs and has additional costs, this may also warrant modification.

Once the court reaches a final number, this will be the payment amount required unless one party can show that the amount would, for some reason, constitute a substantial injustice for one of the parties.  Additionally, if a party does experience a substantial change in circumstances, he or she can always go back to the court to request modification of the order.

To make it easier on attorneys and judges there are a couple of software applications, which have been developed to perform these highly specialized calculations.

Iowa Attorneys Assisting You throughout the Divorce Process

While courts have guidelines that they must follow in determining child support, these guidelines do not always address the specific situation in all cases. Where a parent or child has exceptional circumstances that warrant deviation from the standard guidelines, it is important to persuasively make this argument in front of a judge.

Family law attorney Jonathan D. Schmidt frequently works with clients navigating the divorce and child support process, and is a fierce advocate for his client’s needs and rights. For more information or to discuss possible representation in your case, contact us online or at (319) 423-3031.