Representing Parents in Proceedings to Establish Child Support or to Modify Child Support
Whether you are a parent involved in a pending divorce or an unmarried parent in a paternity action, child support orders can have a profound impact on the financial status of both parents as well as their minor children. If you are the non-custodial parent obligated to pay child support, an overly generous order can limit your ability to rebuild your life following divorce or to provide for your new family. If you are the custodial parent entitled to receive child support and the non-custodial parent fails to comply with a child support order or hides income to obtain a lower support order, the financial impact of this conduct significantly impairs your ability to provide for your children. The Wyoming Child Support Law Firm of Arnold Law Offices, PLLC, recognizes the financial impact of a child support order and diligently advocates to ensure that such orders are fair, appropriate and conform to the law under the facts of each case.
Most Important Factors When Calculating Child Support in Wyoming
Child support is very important, but there are misconceptions that can derail the parents reaching a settlement or that can motivate parents to waste resources without much prospect of a different result. The calculation of child support in Wyoming is based on the state child support guidelines. These guidelines limit the court's discretion. The most significant factors affecting the amount of the required child support payment are the income of the parents, the number of children requiring support and the amount of physical custody (i.e. overnights per year) exercised by each parent.
The court cannot consider the ability of the non-custodial parent to pay his or her own mortgage, utilities or other household expenses. The narrow range of allowable expenses considered when calculating child support include:
- Alimony and child support from a prior relationship actually being paid
- Mandatory payroll deductions (e.g. SSDI, state and federal withholding)
- Actual health insurance premiums paid for the benefit of the children
- Uninsured medical costs paid for the children
- Mandatory contributions to retirement plans or pension
What Constitutes “Income” for Child Support Purposes?
When calculating a parent’s income, the term “income” is construed extremely broadly to include wages, salary, commission, disability benefits, earnings, IC compensation, workers compensation payments, pension or retirement benefits, annuity payments and other forms of income. Overtime income may even be considered but only if the judge determines that the overtime is likely to continue in the future based on an analysis of the prior two years of income. Some needs based benefits such as SSI and food stamps are not included in the child support calculation.
While parents are sometimes tempted to change their employment or decrease their hours to reduce child support, this type of strategy will not work. Courts have the ability to base child support on “earning capacity” where the judge determines that a parent is intentionally underemployed or underemployed. Judges may even exercise this power when a parent has legitimate reasons for reducing his or her hours or changing occupations, such as when a parent acts on a non-medically based desire to live a less stressful lifestyle.
Calculation of child support based on earning capacity rather than actual earnings works both ways. A court can impute income to the primary custodial parent buy may elect not to do so when the parent has children that are not yet school age. The imputed income will usually be based on earning capacity but may be imputed based on minimum wage if the other parent has limited skills, experience and education. When the custodial parent is the mother of an infant, courts rarely impute income.
Basis for Establishing Paternity
When parents are unmarried, the parental relationship between a father and child must be legally established. When both parents agree regarding the parentage of the child, the parents can establish paternity by agreement. If the parents get married after the birth of the child and the father agrees to be acknowledged on the birth certificate, paternity can be established if the father agrees to support the child. Paternity may also be established if the father resides in the same household as the child for the first two years of the child’s life and openly holds the child out as his own.
When paternity is not established by either of these methods, the father and mother can execute an “Acknowledgement of Paternity.” The other way to establish paternity if the parents do not agree on the issue of paternity is to file a “Petition to Establish Paternity.” If either the mother of father initiates a paternity action, the court will address custody, visitation and child support orders. If either parent contests the issue of paternity, the court can order DNA testing. DNA tests to establish paternity are accurate nearly a hundred percent of the time.
Modification or Enforcement of Paternity
If either parent’s income or the physical custody arrangements change significantly, this type of change might justify a modification of the child support order. When the obligated parent does not pay child support, the recipient parent can contact an experienced Wyoming Child Support Attorney to pursue enforcement through a civil contempt action. The Department of Family Services, Child Support Enforcement Division also offers assistance in establishing and enforcing child support orders.
Whether you are seeking to contest paternity or to establish, modify or enforce child support orders, the Wyoming Child Support Law Firm of Arnold Law Offices can guide you through the process and diligently protect your rights.