In a divorce or separation case, the court must order reasonable child support payments. In determining what is reasonable, the court must refer to a "Family Support Chart" which is used throughout the state and approved by the Arkansas Supreme Court. That chart is intended to be a guideline for judges in determining the amount of child support to be paid based upon the take-home pay of the paying parent and the number of children to be supported.
If the paying parent's income is more than is shown on the chart, then the judge is to disregard the chart and set child support based on a percentage of the paying parent's take-home pay, as follows:
- One Dependent: l3 percent
- Two Dependents: 22 percent
- Three Dependents: 33 percent
- Four Dependents: 42 percent
- Five Dependents: 52 percent
When figuring take-home pay, do not deduct amounts for retirement, charities, credit union accounts, debts or garnishments. Usually, the only deductions from gross income that are permitted are for federal and state income tax, Social Security (FICA) or railroad retirement, Medicare taxes, medical insurance paid for dependent children, and support for other dependents currently paid by court order.
When a paying parent receives Veteran's Administration disability benefits, workers' compensation disability benefits, or unemployment compensation, support is to be calculated based upon those benefits.
For military personnel, the latest military pay allocation chart and benefits are reviewed. BAQ (quarters allowance) is added to other income to reach total income, except where it is awarded to offset living expenses which are higher than normal.
For a paying parent who is paid on commission, support should be calculated based on minimum draw plus additional commissions.
For self-employed paying parents, support should be calculated based on last year's federal and state income tax returns and the quarterly estimates for the current year. Also, the judge is to consider the amount the paying parent is able to earn, or a net worth-approach based on property, lifestyle, etc.
It is important to remember two things about the child support chart. First, in most cases, the judge will set child support at the level set out in the chart. Secondly, if the evidence shows that the children require more or less support than what is called for by the chart, the court can do whatever is reasonable.
In addition to the chart, the court is supposed to consider the parties' individual situations, including their regular living expenses, such as food, shelter, utilities, clothing, medical expenses, educational expenses, dental expenses, childcare, recreation, insurance and transportation. The court is also to consider the parties' accustomed standard of living and what other income or assets might be available from any other source.
Other factors that might lead a judge to award child support at an amount somewhat different from the chart include whether either party has obtained insurance for a child's benefit, or has provided or paid for necessary medical, dental, optical, psychological, or counseling expenses for a child (such as orthopedic shoes, glasses, braces, and so on), or has created a trust fund for a child, or has paid for special education needs or expenses of any child or for daycare for a child, or spends extraordinary time with a child or shares custody, or pays support for any other dependent child.
It is also important to remember that while a case is in progress, the judge will often count a dependent spouse the same as two children, which can substantially increase child support payments temporarily.
Often, child support is reduced by as much as half for periods of summer visitation, especially if that visitation is for more than seven consecutive days.
In addition to the award of child support, the judge usually provides for the children's healthcare needs, which normally would include health insurance, if available to either parent at a reasonable cost.
When a child reaches 18 and a parent owes unpaid child support up to that date, the 18-year-old can sue for back child support. The 18-year-old has until his or her 23rd birthday to do so.
All support orders are to provide that child support be paid by payroll deduction, unless the parties have a different written agreement or unless the court finds a good reason for not doing it that way.