The definition of child support per a legal dictionary is funds ordered by the court for one parent to pay to the other to assist in the cost of raising their shared children. Both parents are equally responsible, through either time or financial support (preferably both) to contribute to the child’s upbringing.
While each state may be different in their methods, child support is often determined by a standardized income table that accounts for factors such as: number of children, gross income of each parent, daycare and medical costs, and the amount of time the children spend with each parent. New Mexico is subject to the New Mexico Child Support Guidelines. (NMSA 40-4-11.1)
The costs of raising a child run high and child support, while supplementing those efforts, does not cover any one child’s full costs. Children require food, proper clothing, safe and comfortable housing, healthcare, educational support and supplies (even in a public-school setting), safe daycare, and social activities for their development. The Court will not monitor the spending of the custodial parent who is receiving support for the child. It is an accepted assumption that costs for a child are not fully covered by child support alone and the parent receiving support will use those funds toward paying any necessary expenses to raise the child in their home.
Child support is the benefit and right of a child that is owed to them by their parent(s) or guardians. This support is intended to offset the burden of costs to raise a child and maintain consistency between their standard needs between homes. The State, through the New Mexico Child Support Guidelines, ensures a child will not unnecessarily suffer or be deprived of basic needs because their parents separate or divorce; a choice with consequences outside of any child’s control.
Child support lasts through the entire minority of each child. Legal emancipation for child support occurs when the child reaches 18 and graduates from high school, or at age 19 if the child has not graduated from high school. A child can also be legally emancipated earlier by Court order. If a child has a disability that makes it impossible for him or her to become self-sufficient at the time they would reach emancipation by age, then child support may continue indefinitely while the disability persists.
Within the New Mexico Child Support Guidelines, the Court considers a variety of factors including:
- A parent’s gross income (a broad definition and covers income from all sources), or employability if a parent is underemployed;
- A parent’s ability to pay;
- Monthly healthcare premium costs paid for the child;
- Extraordinary out of pocket costs to cover additional financial needs of the child (examples that may be considered include regular visitation travel costs, work-related childcare expenses, regular consistent school or activity fees such as private school, agreed upon cell phones or other fixed monthly fee services;
- The percentage of time a child spends with each parent per year; and
- The amount of support needed to maintain a child’s existing standard of living (if possible).
The child support calculation has two worksheet scenarios, which is determined by the amount of time a child spends with each parent. If one parent is the primary custodian and the other parent has limited time, support is calculated using a Worksheet A. If the timesharing situation is shared between the parents, where both parents share at least 35% of time with the child in the period of a year (approximately 10 days a month), a child support Worksheet B will be applied and reflects a consistent sharing of regular costs of the child as a result of both having substantial shared time with the child.
When a family has more than one child and the children are operating on different schedules to result in worksheet A applying to some children and worksheet B to others, New Mexico case law has provided direction on how child support is to be fairly calculated to capture the differences for the children and ensure a proper payment is determined to meet their needs.
Lastly, because child support is a right of the child to receive, their ever-changing life and growth require indefinite modifiability of the support calculations. Non-modifiable child support agreements are unlikely to be enforced by the Court. When a child’s financial needs change, their timesharing schedule changes with their parents, or where there’s a significant change in a parent’s circumstances, such as healthcare coverage costs or the change or the loss of a job, it may be necessary for a parent to file for a review and ultimate modification of child support. This process is always made easier the sooner a parent acts once a change has occurred.
Child support can often be confusing and complicated for all parties involved. Because every child and situation are different, different considerations are made to determine the final calculation of support for each child. It’s always advised to consult a local family law attorney to explain or guide you through the process for accuracy to your child’s benefit.
Kristin M. Bradford, Attorney with Terry & deGraauw, P.C. (February, 2022)