When you have children together, the parents are supposed to co-parent. This means the parents are supposed to share in the parenting functions necessary for raising their children. It doesn’t mean you have to have joint custody. One parent can be the primary parent and is still expected to attempt to co-parent with the parent who has less time. Whether you have primary or sole custody, joint custody, or split custody, both parents are expected to co-parent their children. One part of being a parent is sharing in the financial support of the children. In this blog, we will explore further the nexus of co-parenting and child support.

Co-Parenting And Child Support: What You Need To Know

What Is Co-Parenting?

If both parents are involved in the children’s lives, then you are co-parents. If the parents are no longer together, then it helps to have a court order and parenting plan (also sometimes called a co-parenting agreement) that sets forth each parent’s rights and responsibilities to their children.

How to Co-Parent

Successful co-parenting involves both parents sharing the responsibility of parenting. This includes being involved with your children and working with the other parent for the children’s best interests. Nebraska has mandated that parents take a co-parenting tips class as part of any initial custody action. Most parents find these tips useful. You can find a list of the approved classes on the Nebraska Supreme Court’s website. Most classes are one-time classes and many are available to complete online.

Nebraska Parenting Education Classes (Nebraska.gov)

Two Types of Custody – Legal Custody and Physical Custody

Legal Custody

If you have joint legal custody, then you share equally in the legal decision-making regarding the children. You need to communicate together well enough to come to an agreement on major decisions regarding the children. Even when one parent has the final say authority or sole legal custody, there should generally be some communication by both parents to discuss options before the parent with sole legal custody makes the final decision.

Effective co-parenting occurs when both parents communicate in a business-like and respectful manner with the other parent. The parents act in their children’s best interests. Differences or past grievances that might exist between co-parents are set aside for an agreement that benefits the children.

No matter how much time each parent has with the children, the parents may have joint legal custody if they are able to co-parent effectively enough to make decisions on major issues regarding the children. Thus, the parents can have joint legal custody even if one parent has primary (also known as sole) physical custody. Legal custody and physical custody are separate.

Physical Custody and Child Support Payments

What is Physical Custody?

Physical custody is determined by how much time each parent has with the children. The financial support provisions are generally determined based on physical custody. Whether you have joint physical custody or primary physical custody usually makes a very large difference in the amount of child support ordered in your case.

Sole Physical Custody also known as Primary Physical Custody

One common misconception is that when a parent has sole physical custody, then the other parent does not have set time with their child. In fact, even when one parent has sole physical custody, it is customary in Nebraska for the other parent to have parenting time such as every other weekend and an evening or two per week. Many courts have moved away from the term sole physical custody and now more often use the term primary physical custody when the children primarily reside with one parent. However, you will still hear sole physical custody and primary physical custody used interchangeably at times.

How Much Child Support When Primary Physical Custody

When a parent is granted primary physical custody, the non-custodial parent is usually ordered to make child support payments to the custodial parent. These child support payments are meant to provide financial support for the children’s needs, including food, clothing, shelter, extracurricular expenses, and school-related expenses. In Nebraska, this usually means that the non-custodial parent pays a greater amount of child support but generally isn’t responsible for the child’s school expenses or extracurricular activity expenses. The custodial parent is responsible for paying for these from the child support payments.

How Much Child Support When Joint Physical Custody

On the other hand, when the parents are granted joint physical custody, both parents are the custodial parent. Neither parent is the non-custodial parent. When both parents have roughly the same income, often neither parent pays child support to the other when they share joint physical custody. If one parent’s income is greater than the other parent’s income, then generally the higher earning parent will pay some amount of child support, but at a very reduced amount since they each provide direct support to the children about half the time.

Calculating Child Support

Each state has its own method of calculating child support. The method and what is included can vary from state to state. For example, in Nebraska, child support is generally calculated off of each parent’s income. A specific algorithm is used to calculate child support using an approved child support calculator that uses the algorithm to perform the child support calculation. It can be more complicated than this, but generally the calculation in Nebraska is based off of inputting each parent’s income, each parent’s health insurance premium costs, each parent’s credit for retirement contributions, and credits for other children.

Joint Custody Arrangements

When the parents have joint physical custody in Nebraska, the calculator takes the number of days with each parent into consideration. The assumption is that each parent provides direct support for the children during their parenting time, such as for meals, transportation, etc. It includes this time-sharing as part of the algorithm to calculate child support. If the parents have equal parenting time and roughly the same income, then neither parent will be ordered to pay child support to the other.

Do Both Parents Pay Child Support?

No. At least in Nebraska, both parents don’t pay child support. Only the non-custodial parent pays child support. If the parents share joint custody, then only the parent with a higher income pays child support to the other parent.

However, both parents do pay a share of other support. In Nebraska, in addition to child support, both parents pay a share of child care costs and medical costs not covered by insurance, whether sole or joint custody.

Child Care Costs

Unlike other states, Nebraska does not include childcare costs as part of the child support calculation. Thus, in Nebraska a parent is ordered to pay a share of child care costs in addition to child support whether the parents have joint custody or one parent is the primary custodial parent. Especially for very young children, the childcare costs can be significant and more than the child support each month. This is usually ordered as a percentage using the “percentage of parental responsibility” from the child support calculation. For example, if the parent’s incomes are about equal, then the childcare costs would likely be split 50/50 between the parents no matter if joint physical custody or sole physical custody.

Health Costs Not Covered by Insurance

In Nebraska, health costs not covered by insurance are also ordered in addition to child support. This doesn’t include the monthly health insurance premium costs (which is part of the child support algorithm in Nebraska) but includes things like co-pays and medical bills owed after insurance has been paid.

Joint Physical Custody Expenses

Additionally, when parents share joint physical custody, the custody order in Nebraska usually includes some specifics as to how the parents will share the joint custody expenses. Usually, this means each parent is obligated to pay a share of school activity fees and expenses, extracurricular costs, and costs of items that are shared between the homes. If the incomes of the parents are about equal, then usually they are ordered to split these costs 50/50. For example, the child only needs one winter coat. The parents would share in the costs of the winter coat that goes back and forth between the two homes. Both parents share the costs of the school supplies list at the beginning of the school year and pay half the costs of the child’s participation on a sports team.

Can you Customize Joint Physical Custody Expenses?

Yes, absolutely. Parents can absolutely customize what joint physical custody expenses they share. For example, maybe the mother pays for the child’s school and band-related expenses and the father pays for the child’s involvement on a sports team. For older children, the order might include who will pay for the child’s cell phone costs or car insurance. You can customize the order to address the needs of the specific family.

What’s Not Included?

What other support a court can order varies state-by-state. In Nebraska, a Court can’t order a parent to pay college tuition expenses or for private school over the parent’s objection. However, once both parties agree to pay a share of these and it is included in their custody order by agreement, then the Court can enforce their agreement and order each parent to pay their share as agreed to in the Order.

Can Co-Parenting Be 50-50?

Yes, in some circumstances co-parenting time is split equally – but it is not always this way. A common schedule is “week on/week off.” This means the children spend a week with each parent and alternate households on a certain day of the week, often a weekend day. Another common schedule is Monday/Tuesday with one parent, Wednesday/Thursday with the other parent, and then the parents alternate the weekend as Friday-Sunday. Sometimes we call this a “2-2-3” schedule. You can also have a joint custody schedule even though one parent has more time than the other. In Nebraska, we look at overnights to determine whether the parents have a sole physical custody or joint physical custody schedule. If a parent has at least five overnights or more of every two weeks, then they at least arguably have joint physical custody. Thus, a parent could have overnights every Wednesday and alternating weekends of Friday night through Monday morning and have the Court consider it a joint physical custody schedule for purposes of calculating support.

How Do We Reach a Co-Parenting Plan?

It can be as simple as sitting down with the other parent and talking through the details of your co-parenting agreement. In Nebraska, you then have to make your co-parenting agreement part of a custody court order for it to be an order enforceable by the Court.

An attorney can help you draft a parenting agreement. You can also attend mediation to have a mediator help you talk through options and think of details that you might not otherwise address for your specific situation.

For example, if both parents work and have issues getting time off, who is responsible for the children if school is called off at the last minute for a snow day? If the parent expected their time to end when they dropped off at school, are they now still responsible at least until the end of the school day? Maybe the children are older and can stay home on snow days, but the parents don’t agree on travel. Can a parent have the children miss school days for vacation time if one parent likes to travel and the other parent doesn’t want school days missed? What is each parent’s responsibility in obtaining or sharing the costs of the visa, passport, and any suggested vaccines for the travel?

Each family is different and working through some of the issues that are likely to come up for their specific situation can help prevent a fight down the road. Your attorney or mediator might help you think of things to address before they become an issue.
Seek a divorce or custody attorney who regularly assists clients with parenting plans. If you have ideas that would benefit the child, get together and write these down. Show these to your lawyer and turn your thoughts about co-parenting into a legal document.

Is A Lawyer Necessary?

A lawyer isn’t required to draft a parenting plan between two parents, but legal representation is highly recommended. Even when the parents agree, legal representation can help ensure that the legal criteria for the documents are met and that you drafted the documents in a way that not just the parents, but that the Court also can understand.

We Can’t Seem To Agree – What Now?

Co-parenting and the financial support of the children are two essential aspects of ensuring the well-being of children when parents aren’t together. Understanding your child support and other financial obligations and creating a detailed parenting plan can help the co-parents maintain a healthy parenting relationship. Knowing what to expect and effective communication can make the process smoother for both parents and, most importantly, their children.

If you’re facing issues related to child support or custody arrangements and can’t seem to agree on a solution, consult a family law attorney who can provide guidance and support during this challenging time.

Law Office of Julie Fowler, PC, LLO | Divorce Lawyers Omaha

Child Custody | Child Support | Divorce Lawyers Omaha

If you are looking for an attorney in a child support case or divorce in Omaha, Nebraska, or the surrounding areas (including Papillion, Bellevue, Gretna, Elkhorn, Lincoln, Nebraska City, Sarpy, and Lancaster), contact our office to set up a consultation.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.