“Child support” is the amount of money one parent is ordered by the court to pay to the other, noncustodial parent toward the costs of raising a child. Under Michigan’s family laws, these amounts are determined by using the Michigan Child Support Formula.
The Michigan State Disbursement Unit (MiSDU) and the Friend of the Court (FOC) associated with state circuit courts work together to collect, distribute, and enforce child support payments. In most cases, rather than one parent paying support directly to the other, these agencies withhold child support payments directly from the payer’s earned wages and forward to the payee.
Determining Liability for Child Support
Child support is an inherent right of the child. Parents in Michigan have a legal responsibility to provide for their children financially. This is true regardless of how much the parent sees the children, if at all, or otherwise contributes to their health and welfare. Under state law, a man is presumed to be a child’s legal father if he was married to the mother when the child was born or conceived. A man who doubts his biological paternity can petition the court to challenge his legal status. The court can refuse to revoke legal paternity, however, if a judge finds it would be against the child’s best interests to do so. Paternity may be established voluntarily between non-married parents by signing a paternity affidavit or acknowledgment of parentage, by obtaining genetic testing, or by court order.
Generally, a parent cannot escape his or her legal liability for financial support by giving up visitation or custody rights. In some circumstances, even termination of parental rights does not end a parent’s support obligation (e.g., emancipation of the minor child,) until the support order is formally ended by a court. Absent court order or adoption, parents have a continuing obligation to pay child support.
If a child’s custodial parent receives benefits from the state on behalf of the child, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) may seek a child support order in the custodial parent’s name from the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent continues to receive the MDHHS benefits, and child support is paid to the state. The custodial parent cannot choose to waive child support in these cases.
The Michigan Child Support Formula
Rather than determining support on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, FOC and the court personnel use a specific formula to calculate child support in Michigan. This formula is available to the public on the Department of Health and Human Services’ MiChildSupport portal. The program considers a variety of factors in calculating which parent will pay support in what amount, including:
- Income of each parent, including wages, overtime, commissions, bonuses, self-employment income, contract income, investment earnings, tips, and other compensation.
- Any other income received by each parent, including but not limited to social security earnings or disability income (but not Supplemental Social Security Income), unemployment, worker’s compensation, retirement income, military pay, gambling earnings, spousal support, and more.
- Mandatory deductions that reduce each parent’s usable income, including but not limited to taxes, non-voluntary employment-related payments such as union dues, life insurance premiums if the children are beneficiaries, and spousal support paid to an individual other than the other parent.
- Number of children between the parents at issue (i.e., whose support will be determined by the current proceeding).
- Deductions for other biological children of each parent and support the parents pay or receive for each.
- Tax filing status of each parent (single, head of household, married filing jointly/separately) and who will claim the child(ren) as dependents/exemptions,
- Actual childcare costs, per month, for each child for each parent.
- Scheduled amounts for health insurance premiums, annual medical costs, and out-of-pocket expenses.
- Parenting time schedules (i.e., the number of overnights each parent has with each child).
The Court will enter a Uniform Child Support Order (UCSO) based on the Michigan Child Support Formula that will dictate a monthly amount of base support plus or minus the cost of health insurance premiums. The UCSO will also address how to divide the costs of uninsured medical expenses and other anticipated but other-than-ordinary expenses. If the parties make agreements to allocate certain extraordinary expenses, such as private or parochial school, the UCSO can memorialize and bind those parents to those commitments. Parents may deviate from the USCO upon a showing that an application of the child support formula would be unjust or inappropriate.
Modifying the Child Support Amounts
In general, child support orders may be modified until the child reaches the age of 18 (or 19 ½ in situations where a child is still in high school, is expected to graduate, and lives with the payee). If one or both parents experience changes to their income or other factors included in the formula used to calculate support (e.g., a job change, promotion, injury or disability, or additional child) or the parents wish to modify the parenting time schedule in a way that would necessitate modification of the support payments, they can petition the court for review. If a parent is receiving state benefits, the child support order will be automatically reviewed by the FOC every 36 months. The FOC will only ask the court to modify child support if the difference between the current support amount and the new calculated amount is at least 10 percent or $50.00 per month, whichever is greater.
In determining fair child support awards as well as the legal and physical custody of children in a divorce and custody proceedings, Michigan family courts consider the best interests of the children above all other considerations. While the Michigan Child Support Formula provides a concrete framework for child support orders, a court can take other factors into consideration as appropriate to enter or modify an order that is best for your situation.
If you have questions about child support, custody disputes, or other family law issues, please contact us today – we can help you navigate the court system and work towards the most successful resolution for you and your family.