The first priority is the welfare of your children.
In the case of a divorce or separation involving children, the first action the court will take will be to issue orders for child support. When there is uncertainty about the family, the courts want to know that the children will be cared for and have food, clothing and shelter to meet their needs. Child support is a way to ensure that both parents share in the financial responsibility for the children, and that the children are able to maintain the standard of living they were used to when the family was intact.
In New Hampshire, child support payment amounts are determined by a number of factors. These include the monthly income of both parents, child care expenses, mandatory retirement paid by either parent, state and federal taxes paid by both parents, and some health insurance costs. As a rule of thumb, about 25% of your income will be assessed for one child, 33% for two children, 40% for three children, and 45% for four or more children. Your family lawyer will provide more accurate numbers by looking at all the factors involved.
Child support is not a tax deduction, nor is it taxed as income. It comes up for review and modification every three years, or more frequently if there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of one or both parents. For example, if your “ex” starts driving around in a Ferrari or buys a ski home in the White Mountains, it may be time to go back to court. It should also be time for a review if a parent gets laid off or becomes disabled.
Child support payments can and should be made through an automatic wage assignment to avoid accounting nightmares and allow for a tax refund interception if the paying parent falls behind. Most of the time, child support ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. It can also end when a child marries, joins the military, and in other circumstances. In some situations—cases of disability or special needs determinations, for example—child support can continue even longer.
A note of caution:
If you are seeking to lower your child support payment, do it through the courts. The NH Supreme Court has ruled that side agreements between parents to lower child support are not enforceable. In other words, the receiving parent can come after you for back payments unless the agreement was filed with the court.
Remember, once child support is ordered, it can last for a long, long time. So, whatever your situation, it is best to talk to a qualified family lawyer to learn about your rights and responsibilities and to make sure your children receive the best care possible. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services offers more information about current child support guidelines and payment obligations.