by Sheryll Bonilla, Esq.
When I was a young lawyer a couple decades ago, the sister of a college friend told me she only got $150 a month in child support and that’s why she had to live with their parents. I asked her why she didn’t go back to ask for an increase all those years while raising her son. She said it was too much hassle.
That’s unfortunately true. Many people think of child support as “she’ll just buy clothes or go out with her friends, so I’m not going to give her money.”
The court’s way of thinking of support is – does that child have a safe place to live, one that’s habitable and in safe environment? The higher the child support, the more finances the custodial parent must afford rent in a neighborhood away from drugs or crime. The rent for a suitable shelter in a decent area is the prime concern in a child support issue.
There are also parents who say “well, I’ll go buy the clothes for the child” or “I have to pay the costs of flying them to and from the mainland” as for why they don’t want to pay child support.
The expenses for raising children are not that simple as any parent knows. Prescriptions and doctor appointments, even if $10 a pop, can add up. The car needs to be in good working condition to get the kids to school or to their activities, and that takes gas and car insurance, too.
Every parent has had the time where the kids just wake up and have grown overnight and no longer fit their clothes or their shoes so they have to go shopping right after school. Kids may want to play sports and there’s not just participation fees, but also uniforms and – especially if they play baseball or football – the every week potlucks for the team. Art school or music lessons or other school or extracurricular activities all cost money.
The child support is there to prevent the children from being deprived of things they would have if the parents were married.
So the hardest task in child support is a tough one – to shift thinking of one’s own finances toward the benefit of the children.
Many parents just don’t want to shift to a lower standard of living and aren’t considering the impact it has on their children, and tell themselves “that’s the custodial parent’s responsibility, not mine.”
Toward this, many years ago each state began to develop formulas for calculating minimum child support. I’m consistently shocked at how fathers on the mainland get away with not paying much child support on the grounds that they must pay a couple thousand a year for airfare for visitation.
This leaves their children impoverished because there’s just not enough money for the costs in raising children, and worse, not enough to have them live in a safe area or without having to share a home with others. I’m surprised at the courts that order this and even more that the fathers are not caring more for their own offspring.
Of all the child support guidelines I’ve seen from other states, I think Hawaii has the best one. Ours is one to two pages long, depending on the custody arrangement.
We take both parents’ gross incomes from all sources – the pre-tax amounts – and put that in at the top. We write in the number of children being supported just under that, and at the bottom, we enter the amount that each parent pays for child care and health insurance.
The worksheet is computerized and uses tables for standard of living, and does the calculation for a reasonable amount of child support based on each parent’s earnings.
I still really appreciate all the effort of our Hawaii Judiciary and the lawyers who volunteered, to make a fair, easy to use child support guidelines worksheet (CSGW). Kudos to our Family Court for this CSGW.
I really believe our Hawaii Family Court is just the best of all the states, for their care for the best interests of the children as the primary concern, and the CSGW they developed to keep children from being impoverished – to the extent possible given the circumstances – after a divorce.
From the decree up through the end of the support obligation, the child support can be modified in two situations – every three years (for natural increases in cost of living) or when one parent has a significant change of 10% in income in either direction. Sometimes health insurance premiums or childcare expenses increase way past the original numbers. Sometimes parents get huge pay raises. Situations change.
To change the child support amount in court, there’s two ways – hire a lawyer or do it yourself. Parents can go to the Judiciary website, under the self-help tab, get the Family Court drop-down for the island they live on, and print the “Motion for Post-Decree Relief” form.
They need to submit an updated Asset and Debt Statement, Income & Expense Statement, and Child Support Guidelines worksheet, and paystubs and/or tax returns as evidence of income. The CSGW has to be searched separately, but the court at the hearing has its own CSGW.
The non-court way is to contact the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) and ask for a recalculation. That’s free. The parents still need to submit an updated Asset and Debt Statement, and Income & Expense Statement and paystubs for at least two months. After the hearing, the CSEA will enter the order in court for the parents and the order will become part of the divorce file.
As children, their needs change, and as parents work longer, their income also changes with raises and bonuses, or even lay-offs or job change reductions. Child support can be modified to reflect these changes.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not to be constructed as offering legal advice. Please consult an attorney for your individual situation. The author is not responsible for a reader’s reliance on the information contained here.
by Sheryll Bonilla, Esq.