Do You Pay Child Support in 50/50 Custody?

Many parents believe they will not be required to pay child support if they have 50/50 joint custody. But custody is only one factor in calculating child support; it is not the only factor. Custody alone does not determine child support. The court must consider other factors, including both parents’ incomes.

In general, if parents share 50/50 custody of their child, the parent with the higher income will most likely have to pay child support. In theory, this may seem unfair, but if child support were eliminated, the parent who earns less would have to pay a higher percentage of their income toward the support of the child.

What is 50/50 Joint Legal Custody?

Joint legal custody means both parents share decision-making power on major decisions that affect their children’s health, religion, education, appearance, and extracurricular activities. 

50/50 custody means the child spends equal time living with each parent. 

When parents have joint legal custody of their children, they must work together to make decisions about their children’s health, religion, education, appearance, and extracurricular activities. If parents can’t agree on something, like whether a child should take a certain kind of medicine, which school to attend, or be allowed to get a tattoo, the dispute may need to be settled through mediation or the courts.

Most states have laws that encourage courts to grant 50/50 joint legal custody when parents are going through a divorce. The general idea behind these laws is that children are better off when they have significant contact with both parents. The laws encourage courts to grant joint legal custody when it is in the best interest of the child to do so. Accordingly, it is not uncommon for parents to have 50/50 joint legal custody of their children. 

How is Child Support Calculated When There is 50/50 Custody?

In a 50/50 joint custody case, the court will decide how much child support should be paid. Since the amount of time each parent spends with the children is only one factor to be considered, the court will look at other factors when determining child support, including:

  • The number of children the parents have.

  • Both parents’ monthly income and earnings.

  • Whether child support is owed to any other children from a past relationship.

  • The amount each parent pays for work-related childcare.

  • The cost of health insurance for the children.

  • Extraordinary medical expenses for any of the children.

  • Any special educational news the children might have. 

  • Both the parent’s financial resources and needs. 

  • Any bonuses or commissions earned on top of a base salary.

  • Voluntary unemployment or underemployment.

Every state has laws that order judges to follow the state’s child support guidelines when calculating child support payments. I practice law in Missouri, so your state may be different, but here is a typical example of how child support would be calculated in a 50/50 joint custody case. 

Start with “Gross Income.” When calculating child support, start by figuring out the gross income of both parents. The term “gross income” refers to all sources of income before taxes and deductions are applied, including any salary, wages, tips, bonuses, and commissions.

Second, determine the “Adjusted Gross Income.” Once the gross income has been calculated, it needs to be adjusted to account for any child support or spousal support payments that have already been ordered by the court. These orders would be from past marriages or relationships. These payments are deducted from the gross income. This total is called “adjusted gross income.” 

Third, calculate each parent’s percentage of the adjusted gross income. After calculating the adjusted gross income, divide the adjusted gross income of each spouse by the total adjusted gross income of both spouses. This will tell you what percentage of the child’s expenses each parent is responsible for.

Fourth, add in the costs of raising the children. The next step in calculating child support is to add up all the real costs of raising the kids. These costs include childcare costs related to work, health insurance costs, school costs like private school tuition, and other extraordinary costs of raising the children.

Fifth, all of these costs are added up and then assigned to each parent in proportion to their percentage of the adjusted gross income. The estimated annual costs of raising the children are then added up to come up with a total amount of child support. That number is then multiplied by each parent’s percentage of the adjusted gross income. This sounds confusing, but the example below will make it clear how it works.

Sixth, an adjustment is made for the amount of time the child spends with each parent. The final adjustment is made by reducing the child support obligation for the parent paying the child support based on how much time the child spends with that parent during visitation. 

An Example of Child Support Calculation in a 50/50 Custody Case

Here is an example of a child support calculation when a couple has 50/50 joint legal custody. Your child support obligation may look quite different, but this will give you an idea. 

Jack and Jill are getting divorced. They have only one child. Jack’s gross income is $100,000 per year. Jill’s gross income is $50,000 per year. This is the “gross income.”

Neither of them has child support payments or obligations from a previous marriage, so, their “adjusted gross income” is $150,000.

Dividing Jack’s salary and Jill’s salaries by the adjusted gross income will make Jack responsible for ⅔ or 66.7% of the child’s expenses, and Jill will be responsible for ⅓ or 33.3% of the child’s expenses. This is their “percentage of the adjusted gross income.”

Adding up the expenses for the child, including private school tuition, health insurance, and reasonable childcare expenses, totals $30,000 per year. Multiplying the percentages above by the total amount of the child’s expenses means Jack is responsible for ⅔ of the $30,000 in child support, for a total child support obligation of $20,000. 

Since there is a 50/50 joint custody agreement in place, no other factors will be taken into account, and each parent will be assumed to have equal overnight visitations with the child. By dividing Jack’s annual child support payment of $20,000 into twelve (12) monthly payments, we can calculate that his monthly child support payment is $1,66.67. Jack will pay Jill $1,666.67 per month for child support even though they share custody 50/50.

This is an excellent example of how a parent can owe child support even in a 50/50 custody case. Due to differences in income, if you make more money than the other parent, you may have to pay child support. The reason for this is that the goal of a child support order is to keep the child’s lifestyle at the level it would have been had the divorce never occurred. To avoid punishing the child, a judge may order the higher-earning parent to pay the lower-earning parent monthly child support to maintain the child’s standard of living.

Is Child Support Always Ordered When There is 50/50 Custody?

In a 50/50 custody case, the court can order child support, but it is not obligated to do so. A judge may determine that child support is not necessary in some cases. If both parents earn the same amount of money and share 50/50 custody, it is less likely that either parent will be required to pay child support.

Can you Refuse Visitation with 50/50 Custody if Child Support is Not Being Paid?

A parent may not refuse or limit the other parent’s visitation with the children even when the other parent has not paid child support. The payment of child support and the child’s visitation are separate legal issues. Under the law, both parents have the right to have a meaningful relationship with their children, regardless of child support payments. 

Also, a parent can’t stop or withhold child support payments if the other parent won’t let the child visit.

If you have more questions about child support or 50/50 shared custody, you should talk to a divorce lawyer in your area.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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