Filed in Child Custody, Divorce, on October 22, 2017
Since using the new “Income Shares” model for calculating child support for about three months, I have a few observations about the statute both from a practice stand point and a client stand point.
Most attorneys I’ve spoken with agree the new statute’s method of calculating child support is complicated. After numerous calculations with the “worksheets” provided by the State of Illinois, and comparison with the computer programs that provide the calculation for a fee, I like many others, have opted to purchase a computer program. Plugging information into the program saves time and money for clients (once you learn the program).
However, self-represented litigants (“SRLs”) are at a severe disadvantage. SRLs usually do not hire an attorney because they cannot afford to do so, or have had negative experiences with attorneys. As a result, they are stuck using the worksheet method. If they are seeking shared parenting time (146 overnights or more), two worksheets are required.
To make it even more complex, the statute allows for two different ways to calculate child support – the standardized method and the individualized method. The standardized method is based on tables/schedules drafted by the State of Illinois, and should not be utilized in situations where deductions are itemized, one party claims as “head of household,” if a party claims capital gains or if the parties live in different states. Since in most cases, one party will be claiming head of household, this leads to the suggestion that most people should be using the individualized method of calculation. The individualized method requires some additional factors to plug into the formula. Most SRLs do not have access to or the tax knowledge required to accurately calculate using the individualized method.
Additionally, the new statute encourages the traditional “non-custodial parent” to insist on having at least 146 overnights with the child(ren) in order to get a break on child support. After several calculations, I have concluded that it does provide such a break. This is going to cause, in some cases, hardshipson the children, by way of constantly switching residences, more transitions between parents who may have conflict, etc.
Finally, the new statute encourages an unemployed spouse to remain unemployed, especially if that party has never had a job. The moment an unemployed spouse obtains employment, the employe
d spouse can argue there has been a substantial change in income, and therefore the new income earning spouse must contribute to child support. Although the statute allows a court to presume a certain level of income to an unemployed or underemployed spouse (referred to as “imputing income”), this can be very difficult to prove.
The bottom line is that the new Income Shares model of calculating child support will operate as a windfall for some people and a way to equalize income for others. As with the old statute, some will benefit and some will not.