Family and Divorce Lawyer and Attorney at Law

As a Michigan Divorce, Family Law and Child Custody Attorney, I know the hardship divorce can have on all involved. With over 25 years of experience, there are many difficult situations I have litigated, I do understand, however, each case is different and special. Whether your case requires attention to custody or child support, the best interest of the children is what matters. Call now for your free phone consultation: (734) 282-0200.

Michigan Child Customer – An Opinion of the State

Michigan encourages both parents to remain involved in their children’s lives, even after an unfortunate divorce. Courts are required to consider joint custody, if either or both parents request custody.

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Children and Joint Custody Considerations

If parents have joint legal custody, they share the right to make decisions concerning such things as their children’s education, medical treatment, religious training, or enrichment activities. If parents have joint physical custody, they share the time they spend with their children. Joint physical custody doesn’t necessarily mean that the children spend exactly half of their time with each parent.

Michigan has a joint custody law that presumes the best interests of children to maintain a close relationship with both parents. If the parents mutually agree on joint custody, the court will order it unless it would not be in best interest of the the child(ren). If either parent requests joint custody, the court must consider the factors listed below in making a determination.

The court can also award one parent physical custody of the child. In that situation, the other parent will be awarded parenting time (formerly referred to as “visitation”).

What Is Child Support?

Child support is a parent’s court-ordered payment to help with the costs of raising a child. Child support normally stops when a child turns 18. But, a court can order support for a child who is between 18 and 19 ½ if:

  • The child is still in high school and lives full-time with the parent that gets child support, or

  • The child is still in high school and lives in an institution.

Child support normally includes a base amount, plus amounts for health and child care costs. Child support can be ordered in a:

  • Paternity or custody case (if the parents were never married)
  • Divorce case
  • Support case

Who Pays Child Support?

Children have a legal right to financial support from both parents. A parent can’t avoid paying child support by agreeing to have their parental rights terminated or by agreeing not to have parenting time (visitation). Parents are sometimes ordered to pay child support even after their parental rights have been terminated.

The person who pays child support is the “payer.” The person who gets child support is the “payee.” If the payee or the child gets public assistance, child support payments may go to the state instead of the payee.

Calculation of Child Support

The amount of child support is calculated using the Michigan Child Support Formula. It takes into account:

  • The parents’ incomes

  • Custody and parenting time arrangements

  • The number of children supported

  • Medical costs

  • Child care costs

  • Other factors

The court must order support according to the formula unless the result would be unfair or inappropriate. If the parents reach an agreement about the child support amount, the court can consider the agreement, but it does not have to approve it.

Uniform Child Support Order

When child support is ordered the court issues an order called a Uniform Child Support Order (UCSO). The UCSO requires the payer to pay a monthly amount for child support. The monthly amount includes base support plus or minus the amount that either parent pays for health-care insurance premiums.

For example, if the payer provides health care insurance for the children, and pays a premium for that insurance, part of the premium cost may be subtracted from the base support amount.

If the payee provides health care insurance for the children, and pays a premium for that insurance, part of the premium cost may be added to the base support amount.

The monthly child support amount also includes amounts for child care (based on the actual costs) and for ordinary medical expenses (currently $345 a year for each child). Ordinary medical expenses are costs for uninsured things like office visits and prescription co-pays. Ordinary medical expenses do not include care provided by parents, like first aid supplies and over-the-counter medicines.

The UCSO also states how extraordinary medical expenses should be paid. Extraordinary medical expenses are uninsured costs that are above the amount allowed for ordinary medical expenses in a calendar year. These extraordinary expenses are called uninsured health-care expenses.

Usually each parent is ordered to pay a percentage of these extraordinary health-care expenses based on income. It is up to the payee to provide proof of both ordinary and extraordinary medical expenses and to ask the payer to pay their share of those costs.

Collection of Child Support Payments

The Michigan State Disbursement Unit (MiSDU) and the Friend of the Court (FOC) work together to collect and distribute child support payments. In most cases, child support payments are automatically withheld from the payer’s wages and MiSDU forwards them to the payee. Both the payer and the payee get a copy of the income withholding order when support is paid this way.

Sometimes income withholding is not possible because the payer is self-employed or for other reasons. In those cases the payer must make payments directly to MiSDU. Sometimes the parties agree to an alternative payment arrangement. If payments are not made through MiSDU, the payee must let the FOC know they received the payments so the payer gets credit.

Enforcement of Child Support Orders

Child support orders are enforceable whether the order is ex parte, temporary, final, or a modification of a previous order. Some enforcement methods may only be used for the collection of past-due support payments, called “arrearages.” Enforcement methods include:

  • Withholding income from a payer’s wages

  • Placing liens on a payer’s real or personal property

  • Garnishing state and federal tax refunds

  • Suspending driving, occupational, sporting and/or recreational licenses

  • Contempt proceedings

After a certain amount of arrearages build up, the court can schedule a show cause hearing. If the court decides the payer could pay some or all of the amount owed, the payer can be held in contempt. Penalties for contempt may include any of the enforcement methods listed here (like suspending a driver’s license), plus fines, jail time, and other penalties.

Imputing Income

If a parent is unemployed or has chosen to reduce his or her income, the court may decide the party has the ability to earn more. In this situation, the court may calculate and order support based on imputed (potential) income. Imputed income is the amount the court decides the party has the ability to earn; it is not the amount actually earned.

DHS Benefitstop

When a custodial parent doesn’t live with the other parent, and the custodial parent and/or the child receives public assistance, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) may seek a child support order in the custodial parent’s name. The custodial parent continues to receive the DHHS benefits and child support is paid to the state. The custodial parent can’t waive child support in these cases.

Social Security Benefits

Child support payments can be withheld from a parent’s Social Security income depending on the type of Social Security that the parent receives.

Social Security Disability (SSD)

SSD is a social security benefit paid to the elderly and disabled. The amount of SSD a person gets is based on how much the person has earned in the past. The more work history a person has, the more SSD they can receive. A parent getting SSD can be ordered to pay child support because SSD is considered income. SSD can be used for both current and past-due child support.

When a parent gets SSD, his or her dependent children may be able to get SSD dependent benefits. The parent getting SSD should apply for dependent benefits on behalf of the children. How much the children get depends on the parent’s work history. The court will count the SSD benefits the child gets towards payment of the child support obligation. The court may also order the non-custodial parent to pay additional child support. Usually, the parent will only be ordered to pay additional money if the amount of SSD the children get is less than the amount the of the child support that should be paid.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a program that makes monthly payments to elderly, blind, or disabled people with low income people and few resources. The basic SSI amount is the same nationwide, although many states add money to the basic benefit. A parent can’t be forced to pay child support if his or her only income is SSI.

The Michigan Child Support Formula specifically says SSI is not income. If you are a parent getting SSI, tell the court your only income is SSI. Get a statement from the Social Security Administration stating that you get SSI and give this statement to the court. If you were ordered to pay child support before you began getting SSI, you can ask the court to change your child support amount to $0.

Modification of Child Support

The Friend of the Court Can Modify Child Support

In general, child support orders can be changed until the child reaches the age of 18, or 19 ½ when child support is ordered to this age. The Friend of the Court automatically reviews child support orders once every 36 months if the child or custodial parent gets public assistance. The Friend of the Court also reviews a child support order if a party makes a written request for a review. However, it will not do this more than once every 36 months unless the party asking for the review can show there has been a major change in the payer’s job or in the custody arrangement.

The Friend of the Court will only ask the court to modify child support if the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is at least 10 percent or $50.00 per month, whichever is more. If the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is less, the Friend of the Court doesn’t have to ask the court to change it.

Either Parent Can File a Motion to Modify Child Support

Either parent can file a motion to ask the court to modify child support. You can use our online interview to complete the Motion Regarding Support Forms. Examples of when a motion may be filed are when the parents informally change custody arrangements or when either parent’s job changes.

When parents make a change in the custody arrangement, child support isn’t automatically changed. Child support will still be charged to the payer as stated in the most recent order. It won’t change until someone files a Motion Regarding Support and the judge signs an order changing the amount.

When a parent changes jobs, that person could end up making more or less money. The court needs to know about a change in either parent’s income, because it could change the amount of child support.

In both of these situations the court must be told about the change right away, or the payer can end up owing a large amount of past-due child support.

Past due child support amounts normally cannot be retroactively modified. This means the court cannot change the amount of a child support payment after that payment is due.