“Deadbeat parents are like magicians; they pull lifetime disappearing acts.” -- Unknown
A Brief History of Child Support in Kansas
Kansan courts have longed wrestled with the question of child support where a child cannot be supported by two parents residing within the same home. For much of their history, the courts embraced the common law proposition that each parent has an obligation to support their minor child(ren), regardless of whether that parent is in fact residing with the child. Determining the precise level of support, however, was left to the discretion of the individual judge hearing the case, as every case presented unique facts and circumstances which required consideration.
By the mid-1980s, however, popular sentiment pushed back against this purely discretional model for determining child support. The problem was that infinite discretion produced radically different results for similarly situated children, based solely upon the judge who happened to hear the case. Mindful of such, a series of legislative and judicial reforms were crafted to remedy the problem. The results were the Kansas Child Support Guidelines. Adopted in 1987, the Guidelines provided a standardized base from which court-ordered child support could be derived. The usage of the Guidelines was also mandated in the vast majority of cases involving court-ordered child support, to ensure they created the desired uniformity of results.
The Basics of Determining Your Child Support Obligation
Since their adoption three decades ago, the Kansas Child Support Guidelines have changed little in their operation. The Guidelines are a vast spreadsheet, into which the information of both parents, as well as the children, are input. Based upon the spreadsheet’s formulas, the gross support amount is calculated based upon that information. The gross support income is then prorated to each parent based upon their incomes. This produces the amount of child support that each party is expected to contribute each month. The primary inputs used to determine the gross support amount are the gross income of each parent, the number of child(ren), and the child(ren)'s respective ages.
“Gross income” is broadly defined, encompassing not just income from wages, but all other monies, goods, and services received as compensation. (For self-employed individuals, “gross income” is defined as all business income after subtracting reasonable business expenses.) Notwithstanding such, “public assistance” is not considered income for child support purposes. This includes, but is not limited to, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 and other forms of public housing, and the Earned Income Credit. VA Disability and Social Security Disability are, by the explicit language of the Guidelines, considered income for child support purposes and are not “public assistance”.
The number of child(ren) and their ages are important due to the structure of the Guidelines. Child support is calculated on a per-child basis based upon the child’s location in one of three age brackets. The age brackets are 0-5, 6-11, and 12-18 years of age. As a general rule, the older the age bracket, the higher the support amount for a child placed within it for a given level of income. Because of this, child support obligations grow larger the more numerous the children under order and the older the children are.
Additional Considerations for Determining Support
Beyond the basic computation of child support described above, the Guidelines also provide numerous adjustments to modify a parent's income for child support purposes. There are also adjustments available to modify actual support amounts as well. Because cost of raising a child is highly variable and individualized, these adjustments provide a way of accounting for that variability.
The following considerations can alter a parent’s income for child support purposes and/or the actual support amount. It is non-exhaustive and is given merely to provide a taste of what other factors are considered in the Child Support Worksheet:
- Payment or receipt of spousal support;
- Payment or receipt of child support on other children;
- Payment of work- and non-work-related child-care costs;
- Payment for health insurance for the child(ren);
- Additional costs associated with long-distance visitation;
- The location of one parent if that parent lives outside Kansas; and
- The payor’s raising of after-born children in his or her home.
Modifying a Child Support Obligation
Court-ordered child support obligations are not set in stone. The Kansas Legislature and the state’s courts recognize that the circumstances of one or both parents can change in ways that require the modification of a child support order. To modify a child support order that was entered within the last three years, a parent must prove that a “material change of circumstance” has occurred to justify the change. (If three years or more years have elapsed since an order was entered, that constitutes a material change of circumstances.) Common material changes of circumstances include one or more of the minor child(ren) aging into a new age bracket, a child emancipating, or a change in a parent's circumstances that causes the child support obligation to rise or fall by 10% or more.
The courts' power to modify child support orders is not unlimited. Pursuant to K.S.A. 23-3005, a child support modification can only be made effective the first of the month in the month which follows that in which the Motion to Modify Child Support was filed. For example, if a Motion is filed on January 1, the new support obligation can only become effective February 1 at the earliest. A court cannot order a modification of child support retroactive to the date of the material change in circumstances.
Terminating a Child Support Obligation
Court-ordered child support obligations are not intended to persist forever. Pursuant to K.S.A. 23-3001, a parent’s child support obligation terminates when:
- A minor child reaches the age of 18 if that child has graduated from high school; or
- If the child is still a bona fide high school student, the child support obligation is instead extended through June 30 of the school year in which the child turned 18. (A “school year” is a year from July 1-June 30); or
- If the child will still be a bona fide high school student after June 30 and both parents contributed to the cause for the same, child support can be extended to June 30 of the following age-19 school year upon the filing of a Motion to Extend Child Support.
The statutory system of K.S.A. 23-3001 only applies, however, to those situations where the parties have not arrived at a written agreement regarding payment of a child support obligation past the child(ren)’s majority. If the parties have arrived at such an agreement and it has been ratified by the court, that agreement controls when the child support obligation terminates.