The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines have the goal of ordering child support to ensure both parents have an “equal duty” to contribute to their children’s financial support, with that amount being calculated proportionally to their incomes.
There are a number of factors influencing the financial responsibility of each parent besides just the incomes of the parties. These include how many children are part of the case, the amount of time (overnights) the child stays with each parent on a regular basis, the monthly health insurance premium costs, who gets to claim the child for tax purposes, the amount of regular contributions, if any, to a retirement account, and if the parents have other children they support. Every case is different and additional factors may be considered on a case-by-case basis, such as travel costs if the parents reside in different states or medical expenses if a parent or child has extraordinary medical expenses. That being said, in most cases, child support is mostly based off just four factors.
How is Child Support Calculated in Nebraska?
Often the parties calculate child support and then reach an agreement as to a fair amount. If the parties are unable to agree on the amount of child support, the Court will order child support pursuant to a calculation by the Nebraska Child Support Guidelines. Although many factors can potentially change child support, most of the time, the child support is based off just four main factors in the Child Support Guidelines.
1. The incomes of the parties.
If you make a salary with no bonuses, commission or overtime, then your earnings for the calculation are probably straightforward. However, many people don’t have such set income. If your income fluctuates seasonally or changes each year based on your overtime or commissions, it may be harder to agree as to what your income is. Most disputes about child support are due to a disagreement as to how to calculate a party’s income.
2. Credits for Health Insurance and Retirement Contributions.
You receive a credit for your monthly health insurance premiums and also a credit for the cost to add the child to your health insurance plan. You also receive a credit for contributing to a 401K or retirement plan. However, there are caps as to how much credit you can receive. For example, even if you contribute 10% of your pay to a retirement account, you are still generally capped at up to a 4% retirement credit in the child support calculation.
3. Credits for Other Children.
If you pay child support for other children, you receive a credit in that amount. If you have other children that reside with you, you may also receive a credit for their support.
If you are granted joint physical custody, you pay less in child support as you have the child about half the time. If the parties’ incomes and credits are the same, then neither party would pay the other child support if they have joint (50/50) custody.
In most cases, it is these 4 factors that determine the child support amount.
Factors that Usually Don’t Matter
Sometimes a party will try to present evidence of their rent costs, car payments, or other bills and argue their child support should be less because of these expenses. However, in most cases, these factors have no bearing on the child support amount. Otherwise, a non-custodial parent could reduce their support for their child simply by choosing a more expensive home or vehicle for their own use.
It’s critical for parents to seek legal consultation and advice from a qualified and experienced child support attorney in Nebraska with a solid track record. Legal counsel can make a difference in the fair distribution of child support responsibilities.
Calculating Income for Child Support under the Nebraska Child Support Guidelines
One of the biggest factors that affects child support is the income of the parties. However, if one party has primary physical custody, the income of the non-custodial parent affects the child support amount far more than the income of the custodial parent.
The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines define income as income calculated from all sources. However, there are exceptions. For example, if a party works two jobs, the Court may decide to calculate the income from only the full-time permanent employment but not include a temporary part-time job that a parent picked up to catch up on bills. Further, if a party has worked overtime, but the overtime is not regular or consistent, the Court may decide not to include overtime in the calculation. In these situations, the Court may actually calculate a party’s income for child support lower than their actual earnings.
On the other hand, the Court can calculate a parent at an income higher than their actual earnings. The court determines a parent’s income by also evaluating their earning capacity, not just their actual income. A parent’s earning capacity is the amount the parent could earn through reasonable effort. For instance, if a parent is able to work but has chosen not to work at this time, the Court will likely calculate the parent at their earning capacity and not at zero income. The Court can also calculate at earning capacity if the Court finds a parent is under-employed. For example, if a medical doctor voluntarily quits their high-paying job to work at a sandwich shop, the Court will likely find the doctor’s income for child support to be consistent with a doctor’s earnings, not those of the actual sandwich shop earnings. However, at least for parents that are working full-time permanent positions, the Court usually finds that their present earnings are their earning capacity even if they had a higher paying job at one time in the past.
Keep in mind that a person’s taxable income is not the same as their income for child support purposes. Even if a self-employed person has lawful depreciations to decrease their taxable income, these depreciations may not be allowed to decrease the income for child support purposes. This is just one example of many possible scenarios where the parent’s taxable income is very different from their income for child support purposes.
Thus, it is not just your current earnings that the Court can consider. The court can also review each parent’s skills, employment history, and passive income streams to determine a parent’s income for the child support calculation.
Income for child support purposes in Nebraska can also include “in-kind” benefits. These benefits can consist of tax-exempt income or other perks like the value of the use of a company vehicle, regular meals provided by the employer throughout the work week, military subsistence allowances and housing benefits, and housing allowances or rent paid for by the employer.
What Can a Parent Use the Child Support for?
Child support is to be used for expenses related to the child. According to a study released in 2022, the cost of raising a child for a middle-income family is about $310,605 or about $17,000 per year.
In this study, the USDA looked at things like housing, food, child care and education, transportation, health care, clothing, and miscellaneous expenses for a child.
In Nebraska, child support can be used for the basic expenses for the child such as:
Share of the Rent/Housing Costs
Share of the Transportation Costs, such as needing a vehicle to take child to school and maintenance and gas for the vehicle.
However, child support is also expected to be used for things beyond the basic necessities for a child. For example,
Toys and Games
Share of the Family Travel
Education and education-related
Activities and outings
In cases where the parents share joint physical custody, the child support is generally much lower. However, the parents are generally ordered to share in directly paying the costs of things like extracurricular expenses and sports in addition to child support. Whereas, if one party has primary (sole) physical custody, the child support is generally higher but any sports or extracurricular costs are the burden of the custodial parent and are not an additional obligation of the non-custodial parent.
Further, in Nebraska, a parent is ordered to pay towards a share of the child care costs and costs not covered by health insurance in addition to the child support. These are obligations in addition to the monthly child support payment. Each parent’s percentage of responsibility for these expenses is guided by the incomes of the parties and the percentages of responsibility set forth in the Nebraska Child Support Guidelines.
In very low income cases, the Court can cap some of these expenses and obligations if a parent’s income (and earning capacity) is below the poverty line.
In the State of Nebraska, parents must support their children financially until they reach 19 years old. Thus, unlike other states, child support continues until the month the child turns 19 years old. At this age, children are officially emancipated from their parents, and the parents are no longer legally obligated to pay continuing child support.
It’s also important to note that Nebraska doesn’t require a parent to have financial responsibility for their child’s college education costs. However, the court doesn’t preclude the parents from voluntarily agreeing to cover some of these expenses. The Court can enforce an order requiring the parents to help pay for higher education costs if the parties agreed to it previously as part of their custody order. Unlike Nebraska, some states do include allow a Court to order a parent to pay a share of higher education costs, even if the parties object.
What If Child Support Is Not Being Used for the Child?
If the child support is not being used for the child, the paying parent can file a Motion for Accounting. The Court can then require the parent receiving child support to show how the child support is being used for the child.
The Motion for Accounting is rarely filed and even less often results in any type of sanction against the custodial parent. First, if just the custodial parent’s rent and car payment alone are higher than the child support, then this is generally enough for the Court to find that the custodial parent has successfully refuted any misuse of funds without the need to provide much, if any, further evidence. A share of the costs for housing and a vehicle can come from the child support and the Court generally gives the custodial parent discretion in how to use the child support funds. Second, if the child support truly isn’t going towards expenses related to the child, then there is generally some much larger issue at play and a custody modification action is more appropriate.
Requesting a Modification to a Child Support Order
If either parent experiences a change in their financial position, either parent can request the Court modify the child support and their legal financial obligations for the child. As most parents experience an increase in their skills and earnings as their child gets older, plus the normal increase in earnings due to inflation, most child support obligations go up over time. As the Court looks at not just income, but also earning capacity, it is less common to see a child support obligation decrease as the child gets older. Absent illness or unforeseen circumstances outside of the parent’s control, it is generally much more difficult to convince a Judge to decrease child support, unless the Court is also changing who has custody of the child.
Additional Information: Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support
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