Is Child Support Calculated Differently in High-Income Divorces?

The two driving forces behind determining child support obligations are parental income and the number of children. The basic formula is pretty straightforward for those parents with a combined income of $163,000 (the current cap) or less, but support awards get complicated when parents make well above the formula cap. The lifestyle enjoyed by the children becomes a larger part of the equation.

High-earning spouses need a divorce attorney with specific experience in dealing with high net-worth divorces. At Samuelson Hause PLLC, we can develop strategic arguments that detail what is in the best interests of your children and their accustomed lifestyle.

Child Support Obligations of High-Earning Parents

The New York child support guidelines outlined in law are a starting point for negotiations between divorcing spouses. The guidelines also provide a foundation for child support cases before a judge. The law, nevertheless, provides considerable flexibility for a judge to determine the child support award.

Child support should maintain, as best possible, the same standard of living the children enjoyed when their parents were still married. The divorce should not punish the children. The basic child support obligations include shelter, food, and clothing. But children from high net-worth parents often have become accustomed to other benefits.

Child support can be awarded to continue their style of living:

  • Private school tuition
  • International travel
  • Exclusive summer camps
  • Private lessons
  • Extracurricular activities

Including these expenses in child support requires that your attorney effectively argue how these items are part of the fabric of your child’s life, they are reasonable, and that the other parent has the ability to pay.

Basic Child Support Obligations in New York

The state’s formula for calculating child support is not as relevant to high-earning spouses. New York originally developed the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) in 1989 to create a fair and predictable formula for child support awards in the state. Child support is money that one parent pays the other to help support a child, usually until the child reaches 21 years old.

To calculate child support, the court analyzes the parents’ combined annual gross income and the number of their minor children.

When income is $163,000 or less, the income is multiplied by a percentage based on the number of minor children:

  • One child: 17%
  • Two children: 25%
  • Three children: 29%
  • Four children: 31%
  • Five or more children: 35% or more

That total amount is then divided between the parents according to how much they make. For example, a parent who makes $100,000 would pay twice as much as their ex who makes $50,000. The parent with physical custody is presumed to contribute the necessary support. The non-custodial parent pays their child support share to the other parent. Law also mandates that parents contribute to the medical care and child care needs of their children.

In high-net-worth divorce cases, the combined parental income exceeds the $163,000 cap. State law allows the court to use the child support percentages on income above $163,000, but that is not a requirement. The court can choose to apply the same formula to all or some of the amount over the income cap. There is a history of courts approving a cap as high as $800,000 to apply the formula. Judges have also based their awards simply on a demonstration of needs and not specifically designated a cap.

The court may consider the following factors in ordering child support:

  • The financial resources of each parent
  • The child’s physical and emotional health
  • The standard of living the child would enjoy if parents were together
  • The educational needs of each spouse
  • Non-monetary contributions each parent makes for the child’s well-being
  • The tax consequences for each parent
  • The needs of other children being supported by the non-custodial parent

The child support award should serve the best interest of the child.

Your Child Support Rights in New York

Parents are financially obligated to support the health and well-being of their children. A formula enshrined in New York law provides a framework for determining child support obligations. The equation does not cover the potential needs of a child with high-earning parents. Instead, the court can use discretion in determining what support amount is in the best interests of the child.

Whether you are negotiating with your spouse or intend to take your divorce case to trial, you need a lawyer with experience in complex child support cases in New York divorces. Our firm has more than 100 years of collective experience handling high-stakes cases.

If you have questions about your current or potential child support obligations, talk with one of our skilled attorneys. Schedule a free consultation by calling (516) 584-4685.