The main theme in every child custody case is determining whether a custody decision is in “the best interests of the child.” Using this standard, allocations of parental decision making (“legal custody”) and time-sharing (“physical custody”) are made by the court in a contested custody battle.
(1) Legal Custody
Legal custody refers to the right and obligation to make decisions pertaining to the child’s education, religion, medical care, and general well-being. It does not include the day-to-day decisions that can be made without the input of the other parent. If decision making authority is vested in one parent, then that parent has sole legal custody. If decision making authority is shared, then both parents have joint or shared legal custody.
(2) Physical Custody
Physical custody is the right to provide a home for the child. Whichever parent’s home a child spends a majority of his or her time, that parent has primary physical custody. Where a child’s principal residence is split between parents, then the parents have joint physical custody.
Criteria for Determining Child Support Award (Child Support Guidelines)
The child support guidelines are the main tool used by Courts in determining the amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent. The child support awards granted based on application of the guidelines are regarded as being presumptively valid although in certain instances it can be challenged. In any event, these guidelines set an automatic amount of child support based on the following criteria:
The combined income of the mother and father.
The number of children in the household
The children’s health insurance costs
Work-related childcare expenses.
Any extraordinary medical expenses for the children
Preexisting child support payments
Any alimony awarded to custodial parent.
Consideration of the following factors is important. As to income, it is defined as “income from any source” and includes:
- Dividend income
- Pension income
- Interest income
- Trust income
- Annuity income
- Social Security benefits
- Workers’ compensation benefits
- Unemployment insurance benefits
- Disability insurance payment
- Alimony received
Expense reimbursements or in-kind payments received by a parent while employed, self-employed, or in the operation of a business where the reimbursement or payment decreases the parent’s personal living expenses (i.e., reimbursement for housing expenses, car expenses, health insurance, etc)
Depending on the situation, it can also include: (i) severance pay; (ii) capital gains; (iii) gifts; or (iv) prizes. Finally, also included within “actual income” is income earned from overtime work. This amount, however, must be certain and not speculative
The guidelines set a ceiling for the combined income level at $10,000 per month or $120,000 per year. If the combined income exceeds this amount, then the court has discretion to create an appropriate amount of support.
Childcare expenses :
These are determined by what is actually spent by the custodial parent in retaining services of a licensed day-care or other quality care. If actual expenses cannot be obtained, or what is actually spent is not in the best interest of the child, then the expense is determined by the level required to provide care from a licensed source or the actual cost of child care expenses.
Extraordinary Medical Expenses :
These are uninsured medical expenses incurred on behalf of the child that exceed $100 for a single illness or condition. Examples include expenses for braces, dental treatment, asthma treatment, physical therapy, treatment for any chronic health problem, and professional counseling or psychiatric therapy for diagnosed mental disorders.
Parents who receive alimony in the same proceeding where child support is obtained, the amount of alimony to be obtained will be calculated prior to determining the amount of child support to be obtained.