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Joint custody arrangements may affect child support

Michigan residents will find it interesting to learn about a court ruling that a parent who has custody of the child a majority of the year was not obligated to make child support payments to the other parent.

Under the laws of most states, when child support is ordered, the non-custodial parent must pay child support to the custodial parent. A custodial parent is defined as the parent who has the child a majority of the time. In this case, the couple was not married and never lived together but had a child together in 2003. Their relationship ended sometime in 2007 and under an informal agreement between the couple, the mother had primary custody. The mother received child support payments from the father in the amount of $5000 per month.

In 2009, the mother asked for sole legal and physical custody, and asked for child support payments. The father also sought primary custody. In 2011, the court granted a form of joint custody wherein the father had primary custody during the school year and the mother had primary custody during summer. After that ruling, the father appealed the decision ordering him to pay child support, arguing that he is the custodial parent and should not be ordered to pay child support. The court found that the father had custody of the child 56 percent of the time, and because he has custody the majority of the time, he does not have to pay child support.

The appeals court ruling was in a different state and is not binding on Michigan, but it does illustrate principles shared by Michigan law. A uniform formula for determining child support payments is used by most states including Michigan in determining child support payments. This formula takes into consideration the incomes of both parents and costs such as health insurance, child care and day care. Generally, the distinction between a non-custodial parent and custodial parent is clear. But, in cases of joint custody, it may be helpful to consult with a family law attorney to understand what, if any, impact this custody arrangement has on child support obligations and payments.

Source: Thomson Reuters, "Millionaire parent doesn't have to pay child support: appeals court," Jessica Dye, April 18, 2013

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