Home > divorce, divorce modification, family law general > Child Support Calculations When Your Kid Turns 18

Child Support Calculations When Your Kid Turns 18

NOTE:  I’m speaking specifically to Utah law concerning child support for the purposes of this post.  Should you need specifics about Idaho or Wyoming or any other state, please look at your state’s statutes concerning child support.  Links to the child support calculators for Idaho and Wyoming are found to the right of this page.  Use them for information only.

I learned something new very recently. I had a client who was going in to court on a contempt motion brought by his ex wife for non-payment of child support. My client had had 5 children under the age of 18 at the time he and the wife divorced 5 years ago. At this point they only have 2 under 18. According to his Divorce Decree, and the law in Utah, child support automatically terminates for a child as soon as s/he reach 18, or graduates from high school, whichever happens last, or becomes ineligible for child support in one of the ways stated in the statute.  The statutes governing child support in Utah are found at U.C.A. 78B-12-219 (a link to the Utah state statutes is found at the right of this page).

The exact language of part (1) of the statute is:  “[T]he base child support award is automatically adjusted to the base combined child support obligation for the remaining number of children due child support, shown in the table that was used to establish the most recent order, using the incomes of the parties as specified in that order or the worksheets, unless otherwise provided in the child support order.”  Section (2) adds further “clarification”:  The award may not be reduced by a per child amount derived from the base child support award originally ordered.”

Before just a couple of weeks ago, when I read this statute, it came across as “the base child support award is automatically adjusted. . .blah blah blah. . .for the remaining children. . .blah blah blah.”  Section 2 was a complete mystery.  Knowing I was going to have to have a better grasp on this than that for the court appearance I was making, I brought the statute with me when I went to meet with my Mentor.  (She is very bright.  She’s a family court commissioner, and knows all the fine points.  Thank Heavens.)  What does this mean? I asked her.  I had always thought that what it meant was that if you were ordered to pay $1500 for 5 kids, that was $300 per kid, and when they “aged out,” you would deduct $300 per kid.  Right?

WRONG.  Section (2) means that you have to go back to the Child Support Calculator and figure out what the child support would be for the remaining children.  Use the income numbers that were used in the original child support Order (this is what the end of (1) was saying).  [Note:  There is a link at the right side of this webpage to the Utah Child Support Calculator.]

The Obligor is Always Poor. . Capice?

Child support doesn’t come out to being $600 for two kids under our original example above.  It actually comes out to not quite $1,100.00 per month for two kids (this is running the calculator numbers with one party at minimum wage, or $1,257/month, and the other at $5,100/month–these number produce a child support amount of $1,499.00 for 5 kids).  That’s not anywhere NEAR half of the original Order.

The reason this works out this way is because the Powers That Be in the legislature decided that it really doesn’t cost an equal amount for each additional child.  The first one “costs” a big chunk of money, and each additional child adds a little more to that, but not as much as the first.  I don’t have the first idea as to what the mathematical rubric is that underlies the child support scheme.  I don’t actually care.  That’s what the law is, and that’s what we have to live with.

Also note that the calculation isn’t based on what the parties are making per month now.  It’s based on whatever numbers were used at the time of the original child support order.  If you aren’t making as much money now as you did then and are looking to utilize the automatic reduction part of the statute, you still have to use the same per month number as was used originally to determine support.  The only way you can change those base income numbers is to file a Petition to Modify Child Support.  Until such a time as a new Order is in place, you’re stuck with the numbers from the most recent court order for child support.

This came as a huge surprise to my client.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually able to discuss it with him prior to going into court.  [An aside:  this was not actually MY client.  I appeared at the hearing for an associate because she had a conflict.]  I very briefly explained it to him as we sat there with the judge asking what the actual child support amount was that he should now be paying for 2 kids.  It was nearly $1000/month, and not half that as he’d thought.  Suddenly he was looking at a very large number in arrearages, and not the more insignificant amount that he’d previously believed.  It was really horrible.  He looked like he’d been punched in the stomach.  I was pretty well horrified myself.

You don’t need to get caught off guard.  Again, child support is NOT a per child calculation.  Use your state’s Child Support Calculator to find out what support actually is, based on the income numbers from the most recent child support order.   I wouldn’t want you to end up sideswiped like this poor client did.

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  1. Mel
    July 12, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Doesnt that statement also mean that you use the calculator that was used in the most recent order and not the current state calculator unless you modify? “shown in the table that was used to establish the most recent order” to me that reads that you cant change what calculator you are using. Am I wrong?

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  2. July 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I’m working on an answer to this one. Stay tuned. . .

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    • July 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

      I’ve done a little research on this, discussed with my brilliant mentor, and it was as I had originally suspected. Any modification, of ANY kind, even the automatic when-your-kid-ages-out modification, is now based on post 2008 calculators. The law on this, including the very specific dates that spell out who it applies to (which is everyone now), is located at U.C.A. 78B-12-301, here: http://le.utah.gov/~code/TITLE78B/htm/78B12_030100.htm. And you probably won’t like the results. The calculators had not been updated since the early ’80’s when the legislature got around to it in 2008, which means that they made the equivalent of 20 years of cost of living/inflation/increased income adjustments, all at once.

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