By Gerri Elder
In Alabama, the courts have issued a long overdue update to state child support guidelines. These guidelines had not been updated in 15 years.
The new child support guidelines apply to all divorce and child support cases filed after January 1, 2009. Under the new guidelines, middle-income non-custodial parents will pay more, while the extremely poor will pay less. Child support payments for non-custodial parents with high incomes were also decreased under the new guidelines.
Existing child support orders will not automatically change to reflect the new child support guidelines. Custodial parents who have changed material status since the most recent child support orders were issued, must file for child support modifications to be eligible for adjustments under the new guidelines. While this could benefit some middle-income custodial parents, the economic recession could prevent a number of modification filings. If the new guidelines wouldn't change the child support payment by at least 10 percent, no modification will be made.
According to the Colorado-based Center for Policy Research, which helped draft the new guidelines, up to 60 percent of all child support orders in the country involve one child, while 26 to 35 percent of these orders are for the support of two children.
The Birmingham News reported the new child support guidelines will continue to be based on the combined income of both parents. The child support payment is based on the non-custodial parent's percentage of the combined income. The amount of child support is affected by health insurance and childcare costs.
The Alabama courts last revised child support guidelines in 1993. The new guidelines cover a broader range of incomes and reflect the current costs of raising children, modern tax rates and other factors. Under the previous guidelines, a schedule of child support benefits was provided for combined incomes up to $120,000. Under the new guidelines, child support is set for combined incomes of up to $240,000. For incomes in excess of the set schedule, judges have discretion in setting the amount of child support.
Family Court judges still have discretion in child support cases. If a parent incurs large and unusual transportation costs for child visitation or college expenses are a factor, the judge may set child support above or below the new guidelines. In these cases, the judge is required to provide a written explanation.
The Alabama courts have agreed to review the child support guidelines every four years.