Child Support

Jul 27, 2021

Who pays child support? How much do they pay? Susan and Tracy talk about the things to consider, the details that matter, and the common myths and inaccuracies to look out for in this week’s episode all about child support!


Tracy Hightower-Henne: Let’s just do it.

Susan Reff: On today’s podcast, we will be talking about child support and the Nebraska Child Support Guidelines.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That sounds super exciting.

Susan Reff: I think it’s going to be amazing.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: We will make it exciting. We have a good stories.

Susan Reff: A lot of good information here today. Yeah. So what about like a week ago? Didn’t you get a big famous award?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Famous, notorious? I like the word notorious that major that connotes negativity, doesn’t it? Notorious? No. Yes. So I was a recipient of the Toyo Award, which stands for the ten outstanding young Omaha fans, which was pretty awesome.

Susan Reff: What is their standard of Young Under Under 40?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So this is my last year in my thirties, and I realize that you just aren’t eligible for a lot of things once you turn 40. In fact, I was just at a networking group yesterday and they’re asking for members to this organization called 100 women who give, I think. And they said, if you’re under 40, you don’t have to pay as much. And I thought, Yep, there it is again.

Susan Reff: Well, maybe when you turn 40, you magically become wealthy.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, that’s what they assume.

Susan Reff: I can tell you from experience. That doesn’t happen. Not at all.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Your student loans still aren’t paid off yet. No, no.

Susan Reff: Not not after 40. So you there was an award ceremony, right? It was outside.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, it was at the Midtown Crossing Turner Park. So, you know, they didn’t really know what to plan for COVID, but it turned out really nice. The stage was really big there, and it just was really cool to hear the stories of the other nine people to I mean, obviously, I know my story, but hearing what other rad things people are doing in Omaha, other young professionals, which I’m sure the people over 40 are also doing cool things. But yeah, it’s pretty great.

Susan Reff: Well, that’s the ten outstanding elderly Omaha Award.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So what does that Toyo toe

Susan Reff: To toe t o e

Tracy Hightower-Henne: O Toyo i think just

Susan Reff: Like Tokyo, it doesn’t exist. But maybe, maybe it will.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah.

Susan Reff: So yeah, congratulations. That’s really exciting.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Thanks. What’s new with you?

Susan Reff: So I’ve been trying to work out in the morning like I’m trying to develop this habit, right? And they say, you have to do something. I don’t know what for 12 weeks to develop it as a habit where it’s easy for you. It doesn’t feel like a habit at all. It feels like a chore and a burden. And I hate it.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I’ve I’ve developed a habit of eating at least three times a day,

Susan Reff: Probably when you were really young and you didn’t even have to think

Tracy Hightower-Henne: About it. That’s been working for me. Yeah, but you’re the type of person that if something gets put on your calendar, you have to do it. So are you putting your workouts on your calendar?

Susan Reff: Yes, my workouts are on my calendar. I I once tried to put a bedtime on my calendar so that I would go to bed at a certain time.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: How did that work out?

Susan Reff: It didn’t work because while you’re developing one new habit, you’re breaking an old habit. And that’s the hard thing because I am. I’m definitely not a morning person. I’m more of an evening person, but my days are so busy and the morning is just the best time of day to get the workout in. And once I once I’m up, I I’m fine, but and I’m doing all the tricks like layer clothes out the night before. Have everything you need by the door all that. So.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So how many days then are you one?

Susan Reff: No, I’ve I’ve been doing it. I’m not working out every morning, but I’ve been doing a few of my normal workouts in the morning for about three weeks.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So good for you.

Susan Reff: I can’t say it’s a habit yet. I did skip one. I did skip one.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Was that one on your calendar?

Susan Reff: That one was not on my calendar.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That’s why you skipped it. And it was

Susan Reff: Monday. It was a Monday.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Oh, so you have to decide. Maybe Mondays aren’t your

Susan Reff: Day, right? Yeah, that might be my my. Grace to myself.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: There you go. So let’s talk about child support.

Susan Reff: Yeah, child support. You know, it’s a topic that. It’s it seems from our angle, I think from the attorney angle, it’s a pretty black and white part of the case, but I think to clients it is definitely a rainbow of colors or a gray area of all things.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes. So when I described the child support calculator, we actually have a calculator in Nebraska that was developed by a very, very smart attorney friend of ours. And it’s a software program that we literally input numbers into, like income, health insurance costs and things like that. And then it spits out a number. And it says, based on all of these pieces of information that you input into the calculator, here’s who should pay what amount of child support. So I usually explain it as pretty black and white for clients, but each one of those pieces of information can be gray.

Susan Reff: Right? The you know, and the more you work with the calculator, the more nuanced certain cases can be to write it’s not always just income and then a number.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So and it’s not a calculator like the T 80.

Susan Reff: What was it? Texas Instruments Yeah.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So we’re not talking about a Texas instrument calculator, the one that write our algebra teachers said. You’re not always going to have a calculator in the way we have our phones, but write it.

Susan Reff: It’s a software program that we can put numbers into and and hit, calculate and get a number.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And here’s the first piece of advice that you’re going to take away from today. We’re going to start right off the bat. There’s the calculator available to lay people, which means non-lawyers, you are welcome to use it. It is available for you. Do not take it as gold because you probably don’t know how to put the information incorrectly or potentially.

Susan Reff: Interpret the outcomes.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Right, so so use it as a starting point, but then it needs to really be reviewed either by a judge or lawyer.

Susan Reff: So the first thing that goes into the child support calculator is each party’s so parent one and parent two incomes and their incomes. It’s pretty broad what the child support guidelines say is considered income, it says income derived from any and all sources.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So income sounds pretty easy, right?

Susan Reff: Sure. And it is in some cases where someone’s working, you know, a 40 hour a week job or a salaried job and they get one pay stub and one W-2 every year.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: But what happens when you add the person in who is self-employed or unemployed or part time employed or is receiving disability income

Susan Reff: Or potentially has three part time jobs?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Right. So when we look at as lawyers how to define income in a certain situation, we have to look at all the facts and circumstances of those two parents. So we may have one parent who has super simple W-2 income and the the first important thing is that it’s gross income that gets used in the calculator. So it’s

Susan Reff: You gross. Oh, sick. Wait, what does gross mean? Gross income?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, gross income is the income that you get paid as your salary or hourly before taxes are taken out. So it is not your take home pay.

Susan Reff: Gross is before taxes. Yes.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And net is after taxes, which is not the opposite of gross, that would be clean or.

Susan Reff: Neat. Or Google synonym? Yeah, what what is the opposite of gross?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I don’t know. We’ll come up with it before the end of the episode, so we look at the income of each party. I think the one thing that always becomes interesting is when our client says that’s not his or her true income. And so we’re talking about the opposing party or we have someone whose actual earning capacity is different than their actual income. So that is an exception to income. If we can make an argument that someone’s earning capacity is different. We want to use that that income in the child support calculator. So that could be for our client or the opposing party, right?

Susan Reff: And earning capacity could be something where someone is. Underemployed. You know, they have an advanced degree, and all of a sudden they’re, you know, not working in that field and they’re working, you know, an entry level job or someone is not working full time. Yes, and they could be they could be. There’s nothing stopping them from working full time.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So I often use the example for clients of earning capacity in the sense that you can’t have one spouse as a brain surgeon, if you listen to our first episode, you know that Susan and I both desired to be brain surgeons as children. But so you can’t have one party, be a brain surgeon and then think about filing for divorce, quit their job as a brain surgeon and then work at a minimum wage job, right? You can’t go from five hundred thousand dollars a year to nine dollars and fifty cents an hour and decide that that’s going to be your income for the child support calculator. Your earning capacity is actually five hundred thousand dollars a year. So don’t do that well.

Susan Reff: Or if you do do that, know that you’re not being super sneaky, you’re not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. The lawyers have seen it. All judges have seen it all.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Everyone knows you were a brain surgeon yesterday.

Susan Reff: Right? Yeah, especially your spouse who was living with you during the time that you were doing the brain surgery. So, yeah, so income people also receive income that they don’t get taxed on that might be separate from their regular income.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. Oftentimes, we have military spouses or opposing party is in the military and military folks receive housing and sustenance income, and those are not taxed. So that gets included in the child support calculator. And there’s a separate line for non taxable income. And that actually increases the income in the child support calculator because it doesn’t come out of the net or it’s not considered it’s considered net already. It’s not gross. It’s not icky.

Susan Reff: Right, right. So the and so the next part of the child support calculator, it it factors out the taxes for us. We don’t have to do that. So that’s why we put in the gross income instead of the net.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. So it assumes that someone has federal tax withheld and Nebraska state tax withheld. So sometimes we do have people who work in a different state, so we might have to adjust that a little bit in other deduction area and the child support calculator. So really, drilling into the pay stub and looking at what are the actual taxes paid and withheld from someone’s pay stub?

Susan Reff: The child support calculator also gives a deduction for health insurance premiums.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Right, so once we figure out income, we go into the deduction area. So there’s a lot of different ways that we look at which deductions or are available and then at what amounts. And there’s some maximums on some deductions for health insurance retirement contributions. You may have another deduction if you pay child support for another child with a different parent.

Susan Reff: So I had a case with a fairly high earning person and because of this person’s income was pretty high. When they were married, the couple had decided let’s take let’s put more from her retirement in more from her paycheck into her retirement. And so they were depositing the max. You know that the law allows into that 401k every year, which is more than four percent, which is what the child support calculator allows you to max out at. It can’t be more than four

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Percent, right. You can’t put your entire paycheck into your retirement account and then say, Well, there’s my deduction.

Susan Reff: I don’t earn very much.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I need to pay child support, right?

Susan Reff: And so my client knew this when. So when we were factoring child support, he told me, You know, hey, make sure that he didn’t know that there was a four percent. He was only thinking her take-home pay is pretty low because a lot of her money’s going into the four one K. So he said to me, you know, well, her take home is really low. So is that what goes into the child support calculator? And then I explain to him, No, it’s it’s the the net amount and or the gross so that he then could see that it was her actual earnings, not her take home.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Right. So the actual calculator, the software program that we use is all derived from the statutory language in Nebraska, which says what Susan just described is that you get an allowable deduction of up to four percent of your gross income as a retirement deduction. There are some slight exceptions to that that if you’re required to pay more into your retirement program at your employer, then you might get a miscellaneous other deduction. But most people are not required to pay in more than four percent of their gross income. Often it has to do with what your employer matches,

Susan Reff: And some people don’t pay anything into retirement. Right?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So then you don’t get that deduction. There’s would be zero. So the other deduction that we briefly mentioned is a health insurance premium cost. So it it gets really important that we drill into that number pretty closely when we figure out the child support calculator figures because we break that number out into how much does it cost to cover the children on health insurance and how much does it cost to cover each parent? So if we’re starting in a divorce scenario, we have typically a family plan. One one party usually has the health insurance plan. They cover both spouses and the kids, so we have to get information that breaks that out into how much is it to cover just the employee? How much is it to cover the employee plus spouse? We can subtract those two to arrive at just the employee. And then how much is it to cover employee plus children? And we can, you know, do backwards math that way, which we definitely need a calculator when I do it. Texas Instruments Yeah. Right now we have a just a, you know, Office Depot dollar ninety nine one sitting here, it’s just Texas Instruments still make them. Oh, I’m sure. Yeah, and you still have to buy him, probably for high school, like

Susan Reff: Eight hundred dollars.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So, you know, we get the information of how much it is to break out the health insurance premium. And often one spouse is going to need to get their health insurance coverage, you know, post decree or when the divorce is final. So it’s important that we get that information of what a future estimates going to be to cover yourself. So you get up to a five percent of your gross income as a maximum deduction on the child support calculator

Susan Reff: And if health insurance can be really expensive, especially if you’re buying it on the marketplace.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So what happens if it’s more than five percent of your gross income?

Susan Reff: The calculator takes it down so you can put in, you know, maybe someone’s income is fifteen hundred dollars gross a month and they’re paying five hundred dollars premium.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I was going to say, how are you going to calculate that five percent? I’m actually not listed. Five hundred, you know, is more than five percent. Yeah, actually, it’s not. Yes, it is.

Susan Reff: It’s like 30 percent. I get the Texas instrument. Yeah, it’s like 30 percent. So. The child support calculator will just automatically

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Thirty three percent. Good, good job.

Susan Reff: Take take that number down. And I think on the actual calculator, when you’re looking at it on the computer screen, there’s a little a little bubble that if you click on it, we’ll tell the lawyer, you know, this was more than five percent. So we took it down.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: There’s an info bubble,

Susan Reff: But you know it, it doesn’t spell that out on the printed version or the one that people see the judge

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Sees. So there is the ability there’s a miscellaneous deduction spot on the child support calculator that if you’re paying more than five percent of your gross income, you can take your extra deduction sometimes. Obviously, you may have a disagreement by the opposing party because that will ultimately affect the child support number at the end.

Susan Reff: So the the future coverage thing, I think can be really hairy, too. I had that come up in a case where the family plan was going to last throughout the entire divorce and the spouse that was going to go on their individual plan wanted to get credit for that at a temporary so before the before it was over, she wanted to get credit for her own premium. And she actually had gone out and already purchased it. So she was double covered, which is, I mean, for someone with no health concerns, it was just kind of seemed silly. I think it was a control play. Ultimately, the judge said, No, I’m not giving you credit for it because you already have it. Go cancel that policy and save money.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. Ok, so the next part of the child support calculator is a determination of how many days of parenting time parents will have, and this is where the child support calculator can get.

Susan Reff: This is where it’s manipulated.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes, can get manipulated. So when we go back to a couple of episodes ago where we talked about determining what your parenting time is going to be, we often will describe the child support calculator is very independent of what your parenting plan is, but because people know that your child support figures is taking into account the number of overnights you have with your children, people often will say, Well, I want joint custody in order to pay less or receive more in child support.

Susan Reff: And it’s, you know, that’s a very elementary way to look at the child support calculator, right? Because there’s so much more that goes in the child support bucket than just this child support payment that the calculator gives us. Yes, there’s also child care expenses, which are under this umbrella of child support and there’s out-of-pocket medical expenses. And then sometimes in some cases, we’re sharing just regular expenses for kids, so like extracurricular activities and things like that. So when one parent has primary physical custody, you still have to split daycare and you still have to split out of pocket medical.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, and it’s not always equal. So there’s a percentage that comes out of the child support calculator and that percentage is actually derived from the income disparity between the two parties. So you’re going to share child care expenses and out-of-pocket medical expenses based on that percentage. So if one person earns more than the other person, it’s they’re going to be paying more of child care or out-of-pocket medical expenses. So it may be 60 40. It may be 70 30. And it might be 50 50 or any number other variation of numbers that adds up to one hundred.

Susan Reff: And then if there’s joint custody, so this is what people say, like, Oh, well, if I earn more money, I better go for joint custody, so I have less in child support. You might make up the difference for that in your percentage of shared expenses because you’re also going to be then sharing the extracurricular, the school uniforms, the French horn, you know, all of that. You’re going to be splitting all of that and that can make up a, you know, the difference in what the child support would have been if it was primary custody versus joint custody.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. So when you have joint custody, it’s there’s a range of overnights at each parent has to have. And when you have joint custody, you’re going to share expenses that the child support guidelines specifically call necessary and direct expenditures, including clothing and extracurricular activities. That’s the end quote. And oftentimes we’ll spell out a lot more what specific expenses the parents want to share. And so we’ll usually talk about, are they going to actually share clothing expenses or not? Sometimes parents decide, No, we’re just going to each by about half the clothes. We’re not going to, you know, piddle about socks and underwear. I have one one good story. We had a divorce that they had 50 50 custody, so we were going to be in the sharing of expenses and we were drilling down into the details of what expenses we’re going to get shared. And they were pretty much on the same page with everything they wanted to share. All the expenses the the children were not yet of driving age. They were maybe 10 and. Nine, maybe so they’re not they’re not even close to having a car, they just maybe started having cell phones, so they knew these two parents knew they wanted to be able to share these expenses. Then one parent said, Well, our daughter really likes to read and I buy her books all the time. And the dad said, Yeah, I’m not sharing in that expense. And here I am, the book lover. And this was actually a collaborative case. So we were literally in a four way meeting. And I this was pre-COVID, so I wasn’t wearing a mask. I could not contain my facial expression. There was eye rolling. And you know, in that discussion, ultimately, it ended up being that they’re going to share in the book expenses for this child. And you know, we ended up talking about whether the book reading is a positive activity that this child does or not. And my gosh, I just couldn’t believe it. So I fully supported buying all the books for this child. But that obviously wasn’t my decision.

Susan Reff: And this one gets really tough, too, especially when the kids are like middle school, the parents fight about are we going to include car insurance? Are we going to include a car payment? Are we going to include prom expenses? Yeah, prom senior pictures.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So it’s really interesting. And I think the funny story is that when we actually have the clients who have those aged children who are going to go through prom, they actually know how expensive those things are. And so we and sometimes it’s the dads that say well, but all the prom expenses include getting your nails done and getting your hair done, and that’s expensive. I’m not paying for that. And you you literally look at the parent and say, But you had been paying for that, right?

Susan Reff: Well, I think that that’s the overarching theme is with child support. I had a client tell me this one time, he said. I don’t care what the number is, I’m already paying, you know, the. In this case, his wife was a stay at home mom. He’s like, I’m already paying all the household expenses. Why? Why would it be any different now? So I thought that that was some very good insight. But you know, in the majority of cases where the kids are those ages, I try to have those conversations of what are what are your plans for a car for the kids cell phones? How are you planning to split that? And parents usually can kind of. Well, not usually. We hope can come to an agreement on these things and we can spell them out. But another interesting thing that that I’ve used is when they’re sharing expenses, any expense over a certain dollar amount, there has to be a discussion. So Dad can’t just go out and buy, you know, two hundred and fifty dollars worth of clothes every time the kids are with him and then say, OK, mom, now you owe me your percentage or one

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Pair of two hundred dollar designer jeans right back in the day. Those were Gibbo for me. Guess jeans and guess guess. And I think they were a hundred dollars back in the day.

Susan Reff: I don’t remember. But yeah, they were expensive.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I think we found him at J.C. Penney, you know, like the previous year’s design, and I was ecstatic.

Susan Reff: I had my mom had. A friend who had older daughters and I got a lot of hand-me-downs and they got they had a lot of name brand clothing, so that was pretty cool that I got those.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Well, I think that, you know one thing to leave with two, as we end our child support discussion is it’s really important not to compare your child support scenario with neighbor Joe. We talk about neighbor Joe. Yet I think maybe, maybe that was plumber Joe. Your neighbor is also a plumber and also has gone through a divorce and child support. But I almost all the time when we’re doing a consultation with a potential client who presumes they’re going to be the paying party. They’ve talked ad nauseum with their friends about how much they pay in child support, and they just think that there’s like a number that gets plucked out of the air like, Oh, we’ll neighbor. Joe’s paying two hundred dollars a month, so that’s how much I’m going to pay. And I always tell those people, you have no idea how much neighbor Joe makes or how much you contributes to his retirement account or how much his premium of health insurance is. So all of those teeny tiny factors can make a huge difference in the end, no.

Susan Reff: And the child support calculator itself changes. Yes, I think they review it yearly and then. Make changes as needed, but it seems to be every couple of years, it changes pretty majorly and

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That’s based on the tax code. Right? So those two things don’t compare your situation with others, especially neighbor Joe. And then don’t try to do your own calculator, or at least only use it as a starting point guideline.

Susan Reff: Not even a guideline, because it’s called the child support guidelines. It should be. Yeah, it’s kind of

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Like how you google something, right? Don’t don’t google your medical symptoms and then treat yourself that way. You’re not a doctor. You’re also not a lawyer. Come to talk to your lady lawyer league.

Susan Reff: Yeah, rely on an expert to help you with your child’s for calculator.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes. And thankfully, it’s not a Texas instrument. We have the actual calculator because those are expensive. Thank you so much for joining us in today’s podcast. We will see you next week.

Susan Reff: Bye.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to the lady Lawyer League

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