Child Support Standards Act: The Basics
I remember when the CSSA was adopted in New York in 1989. It was a radical departure from how child support had been determined in the past, and not all matrimonial attorneys welcomed it with open arms. There were many predictions of disastrous results, but the statute soon came to be accepted and for good reason. While it is not perfect, it does provide a starting point and some certainty to support across the state.
The statute provides what is considered to be the “presumptively correct” amount of child support to be paid to the custodial parent by applying a child support percentage (17% for one child; 25% for two children; 29% for three children; 31% for four children; 35% for five or more children) up to a certain amount of combined parental income to determine the amount of child support to be paid. The combined parental income amount rises based upon cost of living, and in 2014, it is $141,000. Once you have that figure, you then determine the percentage of the payor’s income to the combined parental income, and then multiply the child support amount by that percentage to determine the amount of child support that should be paid to the custodial parent. You can find the current amount of combined parental income along with a chart giving you the amount of child support based upon the number of children and income levels at https://www.childsupport.ny.gov/dcse/child_support_standards.html.
In terms of income above the statutory cap, only a Court can determine up to what combined income, if any, to apply the child support percentages in consideration of a number of ten enumerated factors, including the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage were not dissolved, the financial resources of the parents, non-monetary contributions made by the parties and any other factor that the Court deems relevant. A Court can also choose to not apply the CSSA at all based upon those same ten factors.
In a Separation Agreement, the parties themselves can also choose to opt out of the CSSA as long as the agreement provides what the presumptively correct amount would be and lists the reasons why the parents are opting out of the application of the CSSA.
The question of what constitutes income can lead to some debate. It is meant to be as broad as possible, and so it includes all wages and income as should be included in an income tax return, as well as governmental and retirement benefits, annuity payments and investment income whether taxable or not. In addition, a Court can impute income to either party and also include certain other expenses that a self-employed person might deduct, such as depreciation, entertainment and other perquisites of employment. On the other hand, the statute deducts from income maintenance that is going to be paid to a current spouse and child support (per an existing order) paid to a child who is not part of the current matter.
The court also has discretion to include as income a certain percentage of non-recurring payments that are not topically considered income, such as lottery winnings, gifts or inheritances.
So, given the definitions of income, it is easier to apply the statute in cases where the parties are both W-2 employees with fairly steady income. It is not so easy to apply to parties who are self-employed, unemployed or depend on monies typically defined as assets rather than income.
In a future post, I’ll address how parties can opt out of the CSSA in a mediated agreement and make an agreement that is best suited for their families.