If you’re interested in sharing 50/50 custody with your ex, you may be wondering what it entails. Custody comes in two types: physical and legal. The parent with legal custody has the power to make decisions in the child’s life, such as which religion they’ll practice or school they’ll attend. The parent with physical custody is the one with whom the child mainly resides. When parents share joint custody, they share the right to make major decisions and split time. So, this means you’re off the hook for child support, right? Unfortunately, the answer is not necessarily. It’s a common misconception that 50/50 custody agreements automatically mean neither parent pays child support.
Although both parents are expected to financially support their children until they turn 18 or 21—depending on state laws—one parent may be ordered to supply additional funds. “When parents share 50/50 custody, child support payments are approximately 15% of the difference of the parents' earnings,” according to an informative post by the Burch Shepard Family Law Group in California.
The exact number is determined by several additional factors discussed in our previous blog, including state law, parent’s income, number of children, and the time each parent has with them. For example, in Florida, child support can never be $0. However, Florida-based attorney Edward Jennings writes on his practice’s website: “if each parents’ incomes are exactly the same or as close to the same as possible, a judge may decide that child support is not necessary if both parents share 50/50 custody.”
Each state has its own child support statutes, guidelines, court rules and decisions, and follows one of three models. Forty-one states base child support on the Income Shares Model, which determines the child “should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together,” states research by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Percentage of Income Model derives support as a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income only, and has two variations. Six states including Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin utilize the percentage of income model, while four including Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada, and Wisconsin use the Flat Rate Model. North Dakota and Texas utilize the Varying Percentage Model. The Melson Formula Model, which is a more complex derivative of the Percentage of Income Model, is only utilized in Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana.
Mr. Custody Coach, an online custody resource hub, explains: “In ‘flat-rate’ states, even in a 50/50 child custody arrangement, one parent is designated the residential or primary custodial parent for child support purposes and the other parent is paying a percentage of their income in accordance with the law regardless.” In income share states, the higher earning parent will typically pay the lower earning parent. For example, if Parent A has a net income of $80,000 per year, while Parent B has a net income of $50,000 per year, Parent A would be expected to pay approximately $15,000 in child support per year to equalize both incomes at $65,000.
Another major factor is the time each parent spends with their child(ren). Many states will take this, in addition to income, in account when calculating support. The typical number utilized is the amount of nights the child has stayed overnight with each parent, or equivalent time. For example, if the higher-earning parent has the children four nights during the week, it’s possible they’ll pay less in child support than if they were to have them three nights per week.
If you’re interested in getting an estimate of the amount you’ll pay in child support, use the DivorceForcePRO platform to find an expert in your area! For instance, a quick search for “custody” will return results ranging from mediators to family lawyers.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.