What Effect Will the New Child Support Guidelines in Michigan Have on Your Family?

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New child support guidelines became effective in Michigan. Family law attorney Tim Ash shares his insights regarding the effect they will have on your family.

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Over the past several decades, the theories regarding parenting after a divorce or separation have evolved significantly. The law has gradually shifted from a largely gender-based child custody system to parenting time arrangements wherein both parents are expected to play substantial roles in child rearing.

The child support laws are slowly changing to reflect these shifts. On October 1, 2008, new child support guidelines became effective in Michigan. The new guidelines include a number of changes, which may have substantial consequences for Michigan families.

How have the child support guidelines in Michigan changed?
The most prominent changes relate to the calculation of the "base support obligation," which is one component of the overall child support obligation. Under the previous guidelines, the base support obligation was determined by considering each parent's monthly income and the number of children.

In many cases, this formula did not consider the amount of time the noncustodial parent spent with the children. Parenting time would only reduce the child support obligation when the noncustodial parent spent at least 128 nights with the child annually. As a result, a parent who has a child one night every other weekend would pay the same amount in child support as a parent in a comparable financial situation who had the child two nights every week.

The new guidelines recognize the financial consequences of truly shared parenting responsibilities. As the 2008 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual explains, when "parents spend more time with their children, they will directly contribute a greater share of the child's expenses."

Accordingly, the new guidelines consider the amount of time each parent has with the child (measured in "overnights") when establishing child support levels. Each parent is presumed to have a child support obligation based upon his or her income, which is then adjusted for the amount of time the parent spends with the child. As a result of this parenting time adjustment, these new guidelines create a spectrum of potential child support obligations. The parent's support obligation decreases in response to an increase in overnights.

What do these changes mean for parents who are currently separating?
For child support arrangements that are currently under negotiation, these changes are likely to have significant consequences. In theory, the spectrum provided by the new guidelines ensures greater fairness. In practice though, the direct relationship between overnights and support obligations may cause greater wrangling over the parenting time arrangement.

Unfortunately, the financial incentives for increased parenting time may not be in alignment with the best interests of the children. One parent may seek to increase parenting time to decrease support obligations, rather than out of a genuine desire to spend more time with the children. Alternatively, one parent may attempt to limit the other's parenting time, to increase that parent's support obligation.

What does this mean for families with existing support arrangements?
For existing child support arrangements, the changes to the laws may or may not have any immediate effect.

In limited circumstances, the change in support levels may be insignificant, thereby making the efforts necessary to modify the support levels unwarranted. In cases where parents are cooperating effectively, neither may be interested in taking actions that could adversely affect the relationship, such as seeking modification. Attempting to modify the child support level using the new guidelines may cause disputes over the parenting time arrangements, thereby resulting in costly and time-consuming litigation.

However, in some cases, parents who want to reduce child support payments may actively pursue modification. Generally, child support levels are subject to review every two years. During such a review, the court will likely modify the child support level to bring the arrangement into compliance with the current guidelines.

Additionally, the 2008 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, which provides guidance for modification, outlines a minimum threshold for modification. If the difference between the current child support order and the recommended amount under the new guidelines is at least 10 percent of the currently ordered support and at least $50 per month, the order is eligible for modification.

What challenges do these new guidelines present?
On the whole, the new guidelines are more equitable and are likely to be more effective in light of the reality of parenting arrangements. When both parents are spending substantial time with their children, the child support structure should take the financial consequences of this time into consideration.

Unfortunately, this new structure introduces incentives that may not be in the best interests of the children. These changes are new, and only time will tell what effects these changes will have on Michigan families. For those concerned about the general welfare of children though, this new structure provides legitimate reasons for concern.

About Timothy R. Ash & Associates, PC.
Timothy R. Ash & Associates focus on high impact divorce and custody cases, along with all types of criminal matters, employment litigation, and corporate litigation. Please visit their web site at http://www.toughlitigator.com.


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