Last week’s blog article was about child custody and the new boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. Like with child custody, I frequently get inquiries and new cases about child support when there are new significant others. As always, people should keep in mind that there are different processes available to deal with child support, like other family law issues, such as mediation, litigation, negotiation, and collaborative law. Why is it that a new relationship might cause child support issues? Like with child custody, the reasons this happens with child support can vary and be complex ranging from emotional issues, such as jealousy, to what is actually supposed to be the focus of child support cases, financial matters.
From a legal standpoint, I think one of the more important reasons is that the gross income of the parent that has to pay child support (the non-residential custodial parent) is reduced before the guideline child support calculation is made, by support orders that are first in time or support that is actually being paid pursuant to a written agreement. The first in time support order could be for child support or alimony also known as maintenance. So, the need to address child support, when there is a new relationship, may simply boil down to a race to try to maximize finances.
Both the new significant other may want more resources to go towards them and their children and the prior relationship may want more resources to go towards him or her and their children. Applications for a support order for the new significant other and a child support order for their children might appear to be of dubious validity if the new relationship is in tact. However, if the new couple is not living together and are/or were married there can be support obligations to the husband/wife and/or children of the new relationship regardless of marital status. Also, the needs of other children of the non-custodial parent can be a basis to deviate from the child support guidelines for the children of the subject case if the financial resources available to support these other children are less than the resources available to support the children that are involved with the child support order in question. This is one of a number of enumerated reasons that there may be a deviation from guideline support as enumerated in the Child Support Standards Act.
Besides a race to get a first in time support order, often there are requests for child support modifications. I frequently see requests for child support modifications when new significant others become involved within a parent’s life. Often, this request for downward modification would not be seriously considered, as a reason for such a change would need to be based on the financial circumstances of the parties in question – not the presence of a new significant other. For instance, a reasonable example of changes in financial circumstances may include a change in employment or lack of employment.
But, perhaps the addition of a new significant other might be able to be considered by a court as additional income. In most instances this would not be the case, but, if someone is “under-employed”, income can be imputed or added to them based on expenses being paid for that parent by someone else. For example, if a parent is not working but their girlfriend or boyfriend is paying their rent, mortgage, cell phone, and other bills, these payments could be considered income to the parent that has the child support obligation. In some cases, custodial parents request an upward modification in child support amount when the other parent engages in a romantic relationship with a new significant other. This will not be seen as an appropriate reason to modify the child support amount – as once again, it must be based on reasons that are considered valid under the law – such as a change in income by 15% or more.
The foregoing is a summary of some of the more typical issues that arise with child support and new relationships but, as is usually the case is not an exhaustive list. The facts of each family and situation vary greatly. Often lawyers and court personnel joke, “You can’t make this stuff up” as family law cases all have unique circumstances. Please see our other blog articles and website for more information on different matrimonial and family law topics or call for your free initial consultation. It would be our pleasure to speak with you about it.