Child Support — Some Virginia Basics
In Virginia, every parent is responsible for the financial well-being of each of that parent’s children until each child reach the age of 18 or, if the child is still in high school, until the child graduates from high school or turns 19. That’s a mouthful so we refer to this “age” as “18/19”.
In Virginia, there is a formula for child support found in the “Child Support Guidelines” spelled out in Virginia Code § 20-108.2. Theoretically, the formulas are supposed to be updated every 4 years, but the calculation has not been changed since 1987. The formulas have a limited number of inputs. The main ones are gross income, spousal support payments, the number of “days” with each parent (more on this in a later article), the marginal cost for health insurance for the children, and the cost of work-related childcare.
With the limited inputs, the formula produces an amount which is “presumptively” the correct amount and applies no matter where you are in the Commonwealth. Section 20-108.2 also provides a list of criteria that the court can use to modify the amount of child support based on the circumstances of the parents and the children.
Child support is not the right of a parent from another parent. It is the child’s right. As a result of this important distinction, it is impossible to “waive” child support or to set an amount of child support that can never be changed. The family courts have something called “continuing” jurisdiction to visit (and revisit and revisit) the amount of child support until the child reaches 18/19.
One of the criteria that permits a court to deviate from the guideline calculation is the existence of a written agreement between the parents. So parents who have a “Property Settlement Agreement” or a “Custody and Support Agreement” (or any agreement that specifies the amount of child support) are permitted to set the amount of child support and that amount will be used by the court UNLESS there is a later argument and the court is asked to intervene.
One interesting “feature” of the child support calculator in Virginia is that there are, in fact, three different calculators. Which one is used depends on the number of “days” and “half-days” each parent is with the children. A “day” is 24 hours, not 23½, and a “half day” is anything less than 24 hours that includes an overnight. So before a child support calculator can be used, a parenting schedule needs to be developed.
This article has focused on how child support is figured out using the calculators. Unfortunately, the results from the calculators often bear little to no relationship to the actual costs and resources of the parents. We encourage parents to prepare lists of their actual household and children expenses. With that information, support (child and spousal) is based on reality.
When we work with parents in mediation, both spousal support and child support are generally based on needs and resources, not formulas. One of the first steps most clients take is to develop a post-separation budget. Sometimes we develop the budgets together; sometimes the parents work independently. Either way, the results of these conversations help the parents feel comfortable that they will be able to “make ends meet” and support their children.
It’s VERY important that you don’t think of Resolution Point’s articles as “legal advice”. Our goal is to get you familiar with some of the ideas with very broad strokes. Please consult with an attorney to determine how any of this may affect your actual situation.