Child Support and The Fiscal Cliff

Will the fiscal cliff changes affect your child support payments? As divorce mediators, we can tell you.

Will the fiscal cliff changes affect your child support payments?  As divorce mediators, we can tell you -- the short answer is probably, but not quite yet.  And having a clear support agreement in place will minimize any potential problems. 

You may have already seen changes to your take home pay.  Currently, Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $113,700, with employers paying half and workers paying the other half. So your maximum share in 2013 is $7,049. Our government reduced the share paid by workers from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for 2011 and 2012. However, this benefit expired on December 31. So, if you are first determining child support using the current child support guideline program, until the new guidelines are released for 2013, (sometime in the spring), the program will underestimate the employee portion of taxes (the old 4.2% instead of the updated 6.2%). Parents can consult with a divorce mediator to help calculate child support for this and any future years.  A divorce mediator can help save you time, money and decrease stress when addressing child support, as well as other areas such as issues of parenting (child custody), division of assets and liabilities, and spousal support (alimony).

Of course, tax rules change every year. And Child Support usually gets recalculated at several points during the course of a child’s life. A good divorce agreement, which a mediator can help you create, will have specific circumstances that will trigger an automatic review of the calculation of child support payment amounts. While there happens to be a change in the percent for social security this year, the social security cap changes every year. For example, it was $110,100 for 2012 with only 4.2% contribution resulting in $4,624, but in 2010 it was $106,800 with a 6.2% contribution resulting in $6,621. And the tax rates change every year too. Yet we do not take the new cap or the new tax rates into account until the new Child Support Guidelines are issued. So, despite all the fiscal cliff drama, the current glitch in the social security rate is no more of a problem than the other glitches.

It is clearly an imperfect system.  But from the court's point of view, the 2012 numbers are the official numbers until the updates are issued. So, if a couple agrees that child support shall be determined by the Child Support Guidelines every year, they are what they are. If the Child Support Guidelines are to be used, and if child support is to be adjusted annually, then maybe the effective date should be when the new Child Support Guidelines are issued each year instead of January 1. Or, if they are continually issued a few months late, then over time it all averages out. So, while the fiscal cliff may sound scary, it does not have to be.  When it comes to child support payments, instead of panicking, make sure you have a good agreement in place.

For more information about calculating child support and divorce mediation contact Randi M. Albert, JD, or Michelle Weinberg, LMFT, at Westfield Mediation, LLC, at 908.913.0373.  View our website at www.westfieldnjmediation.com or email us at info@westfieldnjmediation.com.

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