Missouri Child Support
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In the state of Missouri, children are entitled to support from both their mother and their father, regardless of whether their parents are married or whether the child lives primarily or solely with only one parent. In order to ensure that all children are given the support they need, Missouri has established uniform guidelines used to determine how much child support is appropriate in split-custody and sole custody situations. Parents may also negotiate their own support arrangement as part of a divorce, however, there must be a compelling reason for the judge to accept an independently-negotiated support agreement if it differs from what the guidelines would suggest.
Obtaining Child Support in Missouri
Child support can be obtained in three different ways in the state of Missouri. A child support obligation can arise as part of a divorce, as part of an administration action that is brought by the Department of Social Services or by a parent, or as part of a petition for declaration of paternity.
The Department of Social Services in Missouri has a Family Support Division (called FSD) that will help parents both petition for support and enforce a support order. The FSD is limited in the help it provides, however, and represents not the interests of the parents but the interests of the children. In addition, while the FSD will help parents prove paternity, it will not assist in the creation of a divorce settlement agreement or in the negotiation of a comprehensive custody plan.
The services provided by the FSD are, therefore, best taken advantage of by those with straightforward support cases. Those undergoing a divorce who may need to also resolve spousal maintenance issues or determine a custody arrangement are advised to contact attorneys, partially because a custody arrangement will directly impact how much support will be owed.
Calculating Child Support in Missouri
Parents who are seeking or paying support, either as part of a divorce or independently of a divorce, need to be familiar with the child support guidelines in the state of Missouri. There is a presumption that these guidelines apply, and parents typically cannot deviate extensively from the guidelines nor waive support on behalf of their children. The receipt of support from both parents is considered a fundamental right. As such, parents negotiating support as part of a divorce settlement agreement should either stick closely to the guidelines or be ready with compelling evidence to prove that another support amount is appropriate.
Whether used by a parent or by a judge, the Missouri guidelines mandate that the first step in calculating support is to determine the combined adjusted gross income of both parents. This involves looking at the total amount made by both parents combined, but subtracting for things like existing child support payments or spousal support payments that one or more parents may owe. The total income is used because of the belief that children with separated or divorced parents should be entitled to the same basic support amount they would receive in an intact family where the combined resources of both parents are used for childcare.
Once the combined total income of the parents has been calculated, a table called the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations is consulted. Called Final Form 14, this table includes a list of different combined incomes that parents might have. For each income level, the chart specifies the total amount that should be spent on the care of children. This amount varies depending on how many children the parents have together. This chart is used because parents with a larger income and/or more children are expected to spend more to care for their children than parents with a smaller income or fewer children.
Once the total basic amount that the parents should spend on their children is determined through the use of the table, the next step is to make each parent responsible for a percentage of this obligation based on the percentage of the combined family income he contributes. For instance, a parent who contributes 60 percent of the income is responsible for 60 percent of the basic support obligation.
Parents who have partial custody of their kids are then given credit for the visitation time with their children. The rules regarding the visitation credit were changed in 2011 allowing for a credit for visitation of up to 50 percent of the support obligation.
Parents may also be responsible for their share of medical care costs and healthcare costs, which are also taken into account by Missouri courts in assessing a child support obligation.
Enforcing Child Support
Child support payments are generally deducted automatically from the paycheck of the paying parent and can be directly deposited with the parent who is receiving the support. When child support payments are not made as ordered, however, FSD can help parents to enforce their support order. The FSD provides a number of enforcement services including assistance locating the non-paying parent.
Loss of a driver's license or professional license, seizure of tax returns or wage attachment, liens on property and even criminal charges are other possible tools that may be used to enforce a support order. The court that issued the order may also take action, such as issuing a contempt citation, in the event that a child support order is not followed.
Modifying a Child Support Order
Sometimes, existing child support agreements need to be altered. Reviews of support orders are generally conducted every three years upon request in Missouri. If there is a significant change before three years elapse after the issuance of the support order or last review, parents may request assistance from the FSD or may petition the court directly for a change.
Factors used to determine whether support should be modified include whether the current child support amount differs by 20 percent or more from the child support guidelines currently in effect in the state; whether a health insurance provision needs to be added to the order; or whether there has been a reduction or increase in either income or expenses of either parent or even of the child.
Getting Legal Help
Child support is a fundamental right of all children in the state of Missouri. For assistance in obtaining child support or in understanding your child support obligation, it is advisable to consult with an experienced Missouri family lawyer.