A variety of factors go into calculating child support. The law considers the income of both parents, the number of children, and each parent’s parenting time percentage, among other factors. The data is inputted into the child support calculator found on the Department of Human Services website, and the presumptive child support obligation is then determined (based upon
One of the components of the child support formula is what is called the “parenting expense adjustment” or “PEA.” The premise behind the PEA is to recognize that noncustodial parents spend money on the children during their parenting time as well. If a parent has the children for fewer then 10% of the overnights, that parent does not qualify for a PEA. But, if they have the children between 10% and 45% of the overnights, they are entitled to a 12% offset from the child support obligation. Parenting time of more than 45% is presumed to be equal, and a different analysis is used for these parents.
The problem with this format is that parents who have only 11% of the overnights get the same offset as parents who have 45% of the overnights. Also, there can be significant disparities between child support obligations when a parent goes from 45% to 46% of the overnights. These disparities have come to be known as “child support cliffs.” Parents argue about relatively minor differences in parenting time schedules because of the significant impact it could have on the child support obligation.
A change has been made to the PEA which takes effect on August 1, 2018. The new law eliminates the cliffs. Instead, it will be more like a slope. Minor changes to the amount of overnights a noncustodial parent has will likewise have only a minor change to the child support obligation. The hope is that this will reduce the amount of conflict experienced between parents in negotiating parenting time schedules.
Parenting time should be determined based upon what is best for the child, and not based upon the impact it will have on child support. The old PEA arguably encouraged conflict over parenting time close to the cliffs. With no more cliffs, in theory, child support should not impact parenting time negotiations. Time will tell.
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