Social Question

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Is it actually legal for child support and/or alimony payments to be so high that they put the obligor below the poverty level?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (26834points) February 11th, 2011

1.)I understand that there are federal and state maximum percentages allotted for how much can be taken out of a person’s income to pay child support and/or alimony. Is it actually legal to take so much that it pushes the obligor below the federal or state poverty level? Is there any limit to how far below the poverty level it can leave the obligor?
2.) Should it be legal? If so, how far below the poverty level should be acceptable?

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32 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

For child support payments, I don’t see how this would be beneficial at all. Child support is always based on, at its center, the best interests of the child standard (BIC). Pushing someone below the poverty line can’t really be supported under a BIC standard in most cases as it puts the person making the payments in a tenuous financial position – if, for instance, they lose their job, there is almost zero ability to recover, so payments will stop.

For alimony…well, I don’t really believe in alimony any more, and I think that it’ll be phased out as the single-income family exits the arena. But the interests of both spouses, as well as their ability to work, are taken into account here – and if the income is low enough that a partner would be under the poverty level because of alimony payments, it seems that it would likely be for a limited time as it should be relatively easy for someone to get a job that would be able to significantly supplement that amount in a shorter time (under normal circumstances.

In either case, the determination is fact-dependent so that something like the result you’re suggesting would weigh heavily in favor of the obligor not being subject to payments that high.

Should it be legal? Yes. Trying to create strict standards in these cases would only complicate the ad-hoc kind of determinations necessary when you’re looking at myriad types of families, incomes, relationships, ages, etc. that you do with a family.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Well, with the federal maximum being 65% of a person’s gross income (for child support), I can’t imagine that it is an uncommon situation. 65% is a significant amount, a person would have to have a considerable income to be able to survive on the remaining 35%. I think. Wouldn’t you agree?

Ron_C's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf isn’t 65% of the average family income what it takes to raise children? I know that when my kids left home, the additional income added up to the biggest raise I’ve ever received. My first civilian job got me a 100% raise from my military pay. We barely noticed it compared to when the kids left.

iamthemob's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf – I absolutely agree. But the maximum isn’t the standard, and the income of the custodial parent is always a factor.

If 65% would cripple the person so they couldn’t afford rent or meals, etc., it would be odd that the court would set it at that – and it would probably be the result of some shoddy lawyering.

faye's avatar

I knew a man who was running away because the money he was left after child support was too little to live on. So now his wife gets 0 money. Far better to have been more realistic.

iamthemob's avatar

@faye – that’s exactly what the courts should be trying to avoid in these situations.

To be honest, I think that any obligee attorney who fights to get results like that pushed through the court should be considered for malpractice, considering the likelihood of the negative consequences.

iamthemob's avatar

I’ll note also that all court-ordered support orders are modifiable on petition to the court.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Well, personally, I think the whole family court system is overdue for a total revamp. But that’s asking a lot.

bkcunningham's avatar

What happens in the case of a couple who divorce. The mother is the custodial parent of their two children. The court orders the father to pay a child support obligation based on the state’s guidelines. (The number of children, the combined gross incomes of both parents, uninsured medical and dental expenses in excess of a certain amount set by the state, and all the numerous other income and financial factors that are considered.)

The father keeps the same job, the same income and remarries. He has two children with this spouse and they divorce. Does the man’s first children’s child support get considered or cut in consideration of this second set of children? Do the second set of children get less because of his legal court order obligation to the first children?

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – Wouldn’t the second set of children already have been getting “less” anyway because of the payments to the first set of children during the marriage? And wouldn’t all children get less when more are born in a single family that stays together?

Changing factors are always considered, and again, support orders can be modified. But it’s always the best interests of the children overall that are going to be considered.

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob I mean specifically in the child support obligation. If both mothers in this situation had the exact same income and the father’s income remained the same.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@iamthemob you bring up a great point, that I really appreciate. The dynamics within the household of a family that is in-tact somehow don’t apply to circumstances surrounding families that are divided. If you and your spouse are married, and you have another child, of course your finances will adjust to accommodate another child.
In the same regard, with 65% being the federal maximum, even if it is not necessarily the “norm” for those that actually pay their support order – that money completely leaves the household. It would be a cold day in hell that a parent living in an in-tact family household would take 65% of their paycheck away from bills and groceries and just hand it to their child. Clearly the situations are very different, but on a very basic level, the concept is kind of absurd. The maximum percentage is a little bit outrageous, imho.
Don’t misunderstand me, I wholeheartedly believe that the non-custodial parent has a moral and legal obligation to support their child. I just think that at some point there has to be a line drawn. If it were a single family, the child would receive whatever the parents are able to afford. The court wouldn’t step in and insist that the parents give their child more than they can afford, unless of course it was approaching neglect.
The whole system is badly out of whack. Certainly not just regarding this issue, but it really does seem criminal that the court can push one parent into poverty, while the other is living on a very comfortable household income. Yes, the children should always come first. But at what cost? Is there no line to be drawn?

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – realize that there are many other factors to consider. State law is one. Especially if there has been a change of residence. Also, whether the spouse remarries and there is additional income will not be a deciding factor as to the fairness of any order in terms of whether the father is treated “fairly” for paying more when the custodial parent is in a situation where remarried and making much more income as a household, but it might be a factor in determining whether payments of the original order could be modified in the interests of ensuring that all this father’s children are covered.

Considering all things being equal, however, it is most likely that original payments will be modified with the birth of new children, and the payments to old children will probably be modified complimentary with the entry of order of support for the new children.

Courts recognize that life is dynamic and therefore allow for modifications when there have been what is generally referred to as a “change in circumstances.” The standard is always the BIC.

@ANef_is_Enuf – I totally agree that the system is out of whack. But I don’t necessarily think that it’s because of the judicial or legal system but rather the social one. The guidelines are generally neutral but there are still issues of sexism that will affect how judges consider who should be the custodial parent, what type of money each can possibly make, the importance of blended families in modifying supports (e.g., if a custodial parent remarries and has a higher household income and is supporting the child fine, that should be taken into account as a potential modification for the father…allow him to prosper!)

Note above that I automatically wrote “father” instead of non-custodial parent. This was unintentional, and I didn’t change it, because I think it reveals that we still have these built-in biases about the family structure. So I don’t know if the legal landscape is where the real problem is…

In the end, though, I wish people would work with prenups (which won’t be honored in child support cases but may help to guide these decisions more) and more collaborative divorce procedures.

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob the factors that are considered in most states is the calculator. State law determines the calcuations based on income. I saw on an earlier post in a different thread where you said you are an attorney. You might want to research this one @iamthemob regarding additional children being a consideration to lower a child support obligation from a prior order to an earlier spouse. It ain’t happening. The parents’ welfare is not considered. Only the incomes. The interest of the children is the concern and the incomes. If the father is paying child suppor to 8 children and three different spouses and cries because he wants to remarry and can’t support another family, tough cookies says the court. Your children who are living now take precedent over you, future children or your future families.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

All I know is that when my husband and I got a divorce, some judge thought it appropriate that he (based on his $15K/year income) pay me $25/month – wtf was that?! I told my husband he better pay up more than that and we reached a personal agreement of $400 (because I knew he had another job, off the books) which he doesn’t even pay, ‘cause his mom gives us the money. Ugh.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir ohhh, I agree with you. Of course. That also happens far too often, and is even worse than the non-custodial parent being hung out to dry. (I almost typed “father,” too, @iamthemob. Ha.) The whole system seems way out of balance.

iamthemob's avatar


“I saw on an earlier post in a different thread where you said you are an attorney. You might want to research this one @iamthemob regarding additional children being a consideration to lower a child support obligation from a prior order to an earlier spouse. It ain’t happening.”

I tried to avoid any statement considering that there are 50 different states, a few federal statutes, and infinite variety in cases – you asked again. So, I answered vaguely without numbers and in terms of the standards, which are left vague in order to allow for alterations to the standard calculations.

If you want to make a point, please don’t involve me, and please especially don’t involve my career, education, and please don’t snidely “suggest” that I “might want to research”. Your last response seems to show that you “already knew” the answer to your own question, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the fact that children who are living now may take precedence, and that’s debatable, it doesn’t mean that the precedence results in an inability to modify. That’s why the court has the change in circumstances standard.

See an overview here, but the important part is below:

There are circumstances when the support obligation ends early, including: a child entering the Armed Services, a child’s marriage, a child’s graduation from post-secondary education or graduate school, or any event by which a court determines that a child is or is expected to be self-supporting. Other special circumstances that may cease the support obligation include the adoption of the child, the termination of parental rights, or the parent’s death.

And also this about modifications:

Federal legislation has limited judicial discretion (the sound judgment of the court) in deviating from child support guidelines; however, courts have retained the power to modify child support awards upon a showing of substantial change of financial circumstances of either the custodial (one who has physical custody) or the non-custodial (one who does not have physical custody) parent.

You’ll find a list of some of the general considerations that are taken into account for departing from the general support guidelines here, which interestingly enough include, but are not limited to:

(1) The noncustodial parent’s duty to support other families, including a new spouse and child.

(2) Income of the custodial parent’s current spouse (which frees funds of the custodial parent to support the child).

The law is vast, and there are many, many cases involving this, such that it’s impossible to dictate what is considered in every case. You seem to have some information regarding the fact that it “ain’t gonna happen.”

I would ask, where is it? Lawyers would probably really like to know, considering that it would prevent them from making useless arguments in court…and judges would probably like to know, since they seem to take what you say they don’t into account, and I’m sure would love to know how to save time…

…and what is it that you do again?

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob it wasn’t anything personal. Don’t be so defensive. Geez. LOL This is a discussion and we were both responding to a question. You made a couple of comments that I thought were bs. You were the one who brought your career in on another discussion and I was being serious about researching. I realize attorneys have different specialties and I’d assume your expertise isn’t family law. I didn’t offer what I did for a living present or past.

iamthemob's avatar


(1) If it’s not personal, then don’t bring personal information about me into it in order to question what you thought was incorrect. In otherwords – question the information, not the person – because that is, you know…making it personal.

(2) I brought up my career in another thread. I’m pretty sure you mean this one, which was to say that being a lawyer wasn’t even necessary to understand the issue. Saying “You were the one who brought your career in” means that I have to reference it as a reason to accept what I say as an authority – I’m not doing that at all. So I didn’t, in fact, bring it up – you did.

(3) If you were serious about researching, where are your references? You don’t have anything to support your statement that “it ain’t going to happen.”

(4) “I’d assume that your expertise isn’t family law” – I don’t know why that is, or why that’s relevant…again, considering that I didn’t make any of the above comments either as an attorney or even saying that I was an attorney.

(5) I know you didn’t offer what you did for a living. I ask what your background is that you know the answer that you gave – and again, to back it up.

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob I asked a hypothetical question using the orginial question. Nothing more, nothing less. I honestly thought that perhaps since this is a question/answer site that uses people’s expertise in certain things, and opinions on certain things; that you were speaking with the authority of someone who knew the law. I didn’t mean to upset you, which it seems I have. I am sorry. Please look back over what I asked originally with an openmind. I know you are upset and seem to have taken it personally. It wasn’t my intention dear sir. Really.

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – Ok. But we’re not talking about the question you initially asked. I’m addressing the response to me containing your answer. Where does your information on that come from? And how are you so certain?

PS – There is no need to apologize for the original question. My comments begin with my response to it. So…that’s not where the issue lies…

bkcunningham's avatar

@iamthemob I tried to find another way to source this information. But this should do to show you what I mean and the source. It is a book by Laura W. Morgan, Child Support Guidelines: Interpretation and Applications. Support for Prior Children is the section 3.04a and there are several dozen cases cited as examples. I can’t put my book here, but I found this and I hope the link works:,+modifying+child+support+because+spouse+has+new+children&source=bl&ots=4F6MlosdZV&sig=5WBwDY_vvrFnxIjEp-c_KLJg-6Y&hl=en&ei=gcNVTbicEsH7lwf3s63RBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – This is what you said:

You might want to research this one @iamthemob regarding additional children being a consideration to lower a child support obligation from a prior order to an earlier spouse. It ain’t happening.

The information you linked to provides a whole bunch of case law to the contrary of the above assertion, and supporting mine – that support for subsequent children is considered as a factor for deviation.

bkcunningham's avatar

Read the cases where it does, very seldom, happen. It is like we both agreed this being based on state laws. The link you provided said, “might.” It might, it does. Not very often. The cases where it has happened show extraordinary circumstances.

iamthemob's avatar

@bkcunningham – There are no cases there – the parentheticals are about the general policy – all say that it’s a factor, and there are states listed where in fact there is a mandatory downward calculation of income in every circumstances. In fact, your link states that there is absolutely no uniform policy regarding how to handle the calculation.

Again, this all seems to support my original very general statement – and I think why you’re intent on disagreeing with me (again, still not supporting the statement that it ain’t happening) is that you’re missing the qualification that I included that it’s still the BIC that’s the standard. Therefore, the modification that I was suggesting was based on that standard and only that standard and assuming one state.

bkcunningham's avatar

Yes @iamthemob you are correct as usual.

YARNLADY's avatar

To address your original question, the eventual result of the court order is not a matter of law. In other words, it is entirely legal to bring one party to the poverty level.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@YARNLADY do you think that it should be legal?

YARNLADY's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf I have had family members on both side of the issue, and I do not wish to share my personal beliefs.

captainsmooth's avatar

It is legal for one parent to end up at or below the poverty line based on custody and their child support obligations. If one parent has the children more than half the time, say 4 days out of 7, they get significantly more money than those that have joint physical custody (half the time with each spouse.)

A positive thing that has been happening is that both parents have equal rights to their children. As I went through my divorce, the only thing that really mattered to me was having my kids half the time. My ex, who only wanted to have more time with them so she could get more child support, knew that she could not prevent that. (And if she tried to get more, I probably would’ve ended up with a good case for me to have them more than her). I have my girls half the time, and pay my ex $75 a week in child support.

For all that are surprised about that amount, my ex who was a housewife for 9 of 11 married years, made out very well in the alimony department. She is receiving a nice chunk of money for six years (one down, five to go!!!!)

There is nothing fair or equitable about divorce.

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