Modern Family Matters

Preparing for Child Support: Taking a Closer Look at Oregon’s Child Support Guidelines & Calculations

October 05, 2021 with Pacific Cascade Family Law Season 1 Episode 35
Modern Family Matters
Preparing for Child Support: Taking a Closer Look at Oregon’s Child Support Guidelines & Calculations
Show Notes Transcript

Join us as our Lead Paralegal, Lisa Parsons, sits down to discuss frequently asked questions surrounding child support laws and calculations in Oregon. In this episode, Lisa and Steve answer the following:

•    What is child support, and when can it be ordered?
 •    How is the amount of child support set?
 •    Can the amount of child support deviate from the guideline amount?
 •    How is support paid, and how long does it need to be paid?
 •    Who enforces a child support order?
 •    Can child support be modified?
 

If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200 or visit our website at https://www.landerholmlaw.com/

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Intro:

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

 

Steve Altishin  0:32  

Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships here at Pacific Cascade Family Law. Today, I'm here with paralegal, Lisa Parsons, to talk about child support in Oregon, and how it works. Morning, Lisa, how you doing?

 

Lisa Parsons  0:47  

Good. How are you doing, Steve?

 

Steve Altishin  0:49  

I'm doing well. Before we start, do you want to just fill us in, again, with a little bit about yourself?

 

Lisa Parsons  0:54  

So I'm Lisa Parsons, I'm the lead paralegal for Pacific Cascade Family Law. I have been working in law for over 16 years now, and primarily do our training and workflow specialist, as well as just being the lead paralegal for our office.

 

Steve Altishin  1:17  

Well then you're the perfect person to talk to today about this subject. And today, what we're going to do is take a little bit of a deeper dive than we have in the past on child support, and kind of how it's determined, how long it lasts, and how it's enforced. So I'm going to start with the basic question, what is child support? 

 

Lisa Parsons  1:40  

So child support is court ordered support that parents need to provide for their children. It doesn't matter whether parties are married or not, there's an obligation to provide financial assistance for the care and necessities of a child. It can be ordered either through our circuit courts or through the Child Support Division of the Department of Justice, which is an administrative proceeding.

 

Steve Altishin  2:13  

So when what sort of situations can support be ordered?

 

Lisa Parsons  2:19  

Typically it occurs when there's a division between the parents. So if they're unmarried, and they decide, you know, that they're no longer going to stay together. It can occur with a divorce. And if individuals seek financial assistance through the state, whether it be SNAP benefits, TANF benefits, or Oregon Health Plan coverage, typically, when they seek those benefits, particularly if the parents are no longer together, the state's going to look to try to find additional financial assistance for the parents or for the benefit of the child.

 

Steve Altishin  3:00  

You said that child support can be ordered, even when the parents are not married, which makes me ask, is there a proceeding that would initiate that someone-- let's say one of the parents has custody the other doesn't, but they're not married so they can't get divorced, what kind of a situation would that put them into? What would they file? 

 

Lisa Parsons  3:26  

Well it depends. First of all, it depends on whether paternity has already been established. So when you say custody, my first thought is, do they have physical custody of the child or children versus a court order that has given them custody of the child or children? So if they don't already have a court order, paternity needs to be established. So either when a child is born, if the Father's name is on a birth certificate, that is an acknowledgement of paternity. They can also-- excuse me, the court, or the Child Support Division, can seek to determine custody. Unmarried parties have the ability to seek an affiliation judgment, or a custody judgment. There are specific rules in Oregon that govern the parent child relationship, regardless of whether parties are married or not.

 

Steve Altishin  4:31  

So the $150,000 question: how is the amount of child support set up? That seems to be a vague unknown with something called a calculator floating around in there, but really, how is the amount actually determined? 

 

Lisa Parsons  4:50  

Well, you briefly touched on it, there is a child support calculator. There are specific guidelines in Oregon, or with child support guidelines, where child support is determined based on the income of the parties, and when I say income, that means every source of income. So if someone receives a bonus twice a year, if they're on salary, if they have other forms of compensation, like a side job, all of that gets considered. In addition, they consider union dues, disability benefits of a child or a parent, the number of overnights that a parent has with their child, and their cost of health insurance.

 

Steve Altishin  5:40  

Is custody the determining factor?

 

Lisa Parsons  5:44  

No, no, it is completely separate of custody. And actually, child support is also independent of parenting time. Someone is still entitled to have their parenting time with a child, even if support isn't being paid. But the calculator specifically looks at the number of overnights. So if a parent has time with a child, say on a supervised basis, but they don't have any overnights, the parent that does have overnights every day of the year would then have 365 overnights in their column. And despite the other parent having time with their child, because there are no overnights on their side, it would be zero overnights in the calculator.

 

Steve Altishin  6:37  

I guess that makes sense. The more overnights a parent would have with their child in theory, you would imagine, the more they're needing to expend to childcare, you know, just to take care of the child's basic needs. 

 

Lisa Parsons  6:52  

Exactly. 

 

Steve Altishin  6:54  

So what if someone isn't making any money? And this can happen! They aren't making any money, and they don't want to make any money, and they want to go to the court and say, 'I don't have a job, I shouldn't pay child support'.

 

Lisa Parsons  7:12  

So in Oregon, there is a presumption of what you're capable of earning. So not withstanding someone with disabilities or on workers compensation, you are presumed to be able to work 40 hours a week, you know, a full time minimum wage job. So there will be an imputed income for someone who is not working as long as there is not a basis of why they can't work. And the other piece of that, besides imputing someone at Oregon's full time minimum wage, is that there's often a presumption--if someone, say, has an education, or a lot of experience, someone with a doctorate that was making $200,000 a year, but decides, 'I don't want to work anymore, I'm not going to work, I don't want to pay child support,' --they are not going to be imputed at minimum wage. The parent seeking support can make an argument that they have an ability to earn $200,000 a year because that's what they've been making for the last 2, 3, 5, or however many years. And in cases like that, the imputed wage would be based on that the earnings they could be making, or presumed to be making, should they return to work.

 

Steve Altishin  8:48  

Again, that  makes sense. It seems to me that, like you said earlier, parents have a duty to take care of their children. That's just under the law. And that duty isn't shirked by, you know, not fulfilling how much money you can make. I mean, it's not irrelevant, but it is definitely not controlled by that. 

 

Lisa Parsons  9:16  

Exactly. 

 

Steve Altishin  9:18  

So how about childcare? In the sense of, say my kid is going to childcare, and I'm paying the childcare person. Obviously, the child support isn't paid to that childcare person. How does that kind of fit into the amount of support that's given, or is just one person ordered to pay the childcare provider?

 

Lisa Parsons  9:45  

So there's kind of two pieces to answer that question. On the first hand, Oregon has maximum considerations for childcare. So for a child under the age of 13, they specify,  'This is the maximum allowed to claim for your cost of childcare'. Such as if you have-- and I'm just using an example, this isn't the actual number--but if you have a five year old child, and you have work related childcare expenses that are $1,024 or more per month, the state will allow you to put that $1,024 in your column of what you're paying for childcare, and it will adjust the calculator determination for the other party's child support obligation. It considers both parties work related childcare expenses. And so for example, if one party is paying all of those expenses, their award of child support may go up. And then they're still individually responsible for making that payment to the childcare provider. What can be frustrating is that sometimes childcare exceeds those limitations. And depending on where childcare is provided, whether it's in the metro area, or in the outskirts of the Portland metro area, that number is different about maximums, and it's per child. So I've certainly seen situations where parties are paying $2,500 per month in childcare, but they're not permitted to claim that entire expense.

 

Steve Altishin  11:37  

It makes sense because, again, you can't prevent someone from taking them to an ultra fancy childcare place. You know, top of the line, ultra-deluxe, versus what is reasonable. But you also talked about something else, you threw in a couple of words: work-related. If I'm not working, and I have overnights or daycare, or I have custody or whatever, and I'm not working and not looking to work, and I put my kid into childcare...is that not work related?

 

Lisa Parsons  12:17  

That's right. So if you're unemployed and you're searching for work, and you have that childcare because you need to go to job interviews, or go to the Oregon Workforce Center and do training; for those reasons, you would be able to consider it. But if you're unemployed, and you have no intention of going to work, you're not trying to get a job and you have childcare expenses, those aren't going to be able to be considered in that calculator.

 

Steve Altishin  12:51  

What about health insurance? Is that in the calculator, or is that considered somewhere else? Because a lot of people have health insurance or employers, and some don't, so how does that kind of figure into this?

 

Lisa Parsons  13:04  

So the calculator does allow parties to reduce for their individual cost of coverage. And then if a parent is also providing insurance for the joint child, that cost, or monthly premium for their coverage, can also be included in the calculation. What can't be done is the cost of coverage for non-joint children. So I've had parties that are in a second marriage, and they have stepchildren and of course, the entire family is covered under one policy. The calculator actually requires, or we're required, to determine the individual cost of coverages for the employee, or the parent providing it, and then what the cost is for only the joint children.

 

Steve Altishin  13:56  

So when you take everything we talked about, these are all numbers, and you put it into the calculator--which is a form that calculates, that's why it's called the calculator--and then it comes to a number. Is that necessarily the number that gets paid? Or can there be some deviation from that amount?

 

Lisa Parsons  14:20  

So there can be a deviation. It does permit, I believe it's a 15% adjustment, that can be agreed upon. If you're seeking to adjust that amount more or less than 15%, you have to rebut the calculation and state the basis of why the calculated amount is unjust and inappropriate.

 

Steve Altishin  14:50  

That makes sense, because there are obviously cases in divorces where one party is more dominant, has a hold on the other party for many reasons, and this sort of helps prevent the person with less power and less leverage from just sort of having to give in and say, 'Okay, we'll deviate by 50%'.

 

Lisa Parsons  15:13  

Well, not only that, but sometimes parents have other resources that are meant for the support of their children. Say it's a college savings plan, and that is going to support a child who's now going to college or secondary school; that may be a basis to rebut what the state guideline calculates is the correct amount of support. 

 

Steve Altishin  15:42  

So is it just the financial stuff that would be able to deviate or are there kind of non-financial factors you can throw in, if you're talking to a judge, to deviate it?

 

Lisa Parsons  15:56  

Certainly. I've had cases where we have rebutted the guidelines as unjust and inappropriate because the parent that would be receiving support was being awarded several rental properties, and they're divorced, so they'd have substantial rental income that could provide for the benefit and care of the child. You can rebut for a number of reasons whether it's, you know, a financial basis, or the parties agree. I've had parents who agree to equally share in all child related expenses, whether it's extracurricular expenses, school expenses, uninsured healthcare costs. And they've said, 'Because we have 50/50 time, or equal parenting time, and we've agreed to share in all of these expenses, we've agreed to not have child support awarded to either party, and we've presented that to the court and explained why it would be unjust and inappropriate to require further cash assistance to one parent.' 

 

So the calculator, if I'm correct, sort of assumes an amount that the child needs. What if the child needs more than that? What the child has special needs, or has a handicap... can that be considered?

 

It can. I think the question there becomes, is that handicap child receiving disability benefits? And so there are other factors that get considered. And you do need to specify whether there is that disability benefit being paid on behalf of the child, or a disabled parent, within the calculation.

 

Okay, we've come to an amount. The judge has ordered an amount, and the parties have agreed to an amount that the court has given their blessings to. Because really, they have to. Like you said, this isn't a case where the parents can just make that decision completely on their own, because the kid has the right to be supported. So how then, once the amount is set, is the support paid?

 

So in Oregon, wage withholding is required. There are some exceptions, however. If there is not previously an agreement to deviate from withholding, if there is no outstanding support due, and if the parties agree, they can have payments by alternative means. But most often, it is paid through wage withholding that is managed or maintained by the Child Support Division of the Department of Justice. So they provide collection, distribution, and an accounting of that support on behalf of the parties. When we do an exception to withholding, we typically recommend that parties have support payable by direct deposit from the paying party's account to a separate bank account that's been established by the receiving parent. That way, if there is ever a dispute over whether support has been paid, you can pull all of the deposit records for this separate bank account that will show all payments that have been received by the party who is due support.

 

Steve Altishin  19:55  

Are there any pros and cons between the two? I mean, are there issues that could arise, even if it's a wage withholding, let's say, on the support being paid, or how that kind of works? Or do they both kind of handle the problem? 

 

Lisa Parsons  20:13  

They both certaintly handle the problem. I think that payment through the Department of Justice, the Child Support Division can be very useful in a lot of ways. But often I find that parents don't realize, if their support award says payments are due on the first of the month, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Child Support Division is withholding the money on the first of the month from the paying parent, and paying it out on the first of the month to the receiving parent. More often, what happens is that a percentage or portion of that support amount is withdrawn from every paycheck for the paying parent. And a check is maybe issued by the Department of Justice on the first of the month, but the parent receiving support might not see it until the fourth or the fifth of the month, depending on mail services, or how they have set up payments with the Department of Justice. The other issue that I found is that the Department of Justice is going to assume whatever the order or judgment states. If they don't set up collection until three months after support was to commence, they're going to assume that support for those three months has not been paid. And they require parties to provide proof that payment was made. Otherwise, they will collect on that unpaid support, and may be withholding more than you're expecting from your pay stubs.

 

Steve Altishin  21:52  

So there's a little more stuff to do during the setup process on the withholding, rather than just going to your bank and saying, 'Okay, do a direct deposit on the first of every month.' 

 

Lisa Parsons  22:05  

That's right. 

 

Steve Altishin  22:06  

Yeah. So, how long does support have to be paid? I mean, we can't make an agreement that I'll pay for Jimmy support until he's 12, right?

 

Lisa Parsons  22:19  

Right, right. Oregon requires support to be paid until a child reaches the age of eighteen, and there after until age 21, if they qualify as a child attending school. That basically means that they're going to some post secondary school, whether it's community college, maybe like a training program for a specific industry or for your university. But they have to be going to school at least half time. They have to have grades that are satisfactory, according to that institution. And they're only allowed to take scheduled breaks from school that the school normally would have. So a spring break, summer vacation. The one thing that is interesting about that is if a child graduates from high school and decides to take a year off, and then when they're 19, or 20, they decide to go to school and continue their education, they're still entitled to support when they decide to go to a post secondary school.

 

Steve Altishin  23:36  

Oh, well, that's interesting. So is it paid in the same way? I guess what I'm saying is that, if I owe $1,500 a month, and the child goes off to college, am I still paying $1,500 a month to the ex-spouse and hoping that the ex-spouse will pay for college expenses?

 

Lisa Parsons  24:03  

Typically, no. When a child reaches age 18, it will typically be payable to the child. I have seen exceptions to that, particularly if an 18 year old is still in high school, it may go to the parent until they graduate high school. If a parent is solely responsible for their college expenses, it may go to the parent who's paying those expenses. But the state would presume that it should be payable to the child once they are 18 years old.

 

Steve Altishin  24:38  

So can the court order that each of the parents are responsible for, I don't know, a percentage of college expenses? Little out of the support question. but that made me wonder about that.

 

Lisa Parsons  24:54  

That would usually require agreement of the parties. So with the calculator, there is an option to specify that it's for a child attending school. So it doesn't consider the number of overnights anymore that it would be for a minor, but it's still calculates and determines the appropriate amount that parents are supposed to provide for their adult child. The other piece is that, instead of requiring one parent to pay the other parent, the calculator will typically determine the amount that each parent is supposed to provide to that child. So one parent might be ordered to pay $500 per month, and the other may be ordered to pay $325 per month. But both are presumed to be responsible for contributing to that adult child's expenses.

 

Steve Altishin  25:50  

Does the child have any skin in this game? Does the child have a right to contest the amount at that point saying, 'Hey, this is a lot more expensive than what you guys are saying it is'? Or, on the other hand, can the child also just take the money and run?

 

Lisa Parsons  26:11  

Yes, so when a child attains the age of majority, or 18, they become a necessary or statutory party to the case. So they have the right to receive copies of all records and documents in the case. They have a right to make an appearance. They have a right to oppose the calculated support amount. More often than not, I think that 18 year olds are opting out of that. And so they'll sign a waiver that says, I trust my parents will figure this out, and I'm going to take whatever I get. But they do have rights, just like the parents do, once they hit the age of majority. 

 

Steve Altishin  26:55  

What happens if the child is 20 and gets married, or joins the Marines?

 

Lisa Parsons  27:01  

They're no longer eligible for support. So it's either 18, or 21 if they qualify as a child attending school, but that assumes or requires that it is an unmarried child. And if they're active military, the obligation to provide support will cease.

 

Steve Altishin  27:24  

Got it. So who enforces child support orders?

 

Lisa Parsons  27:27  

Typically, it's the Child Support Division of the Department of Justice, but also the circuit courts. So if you have support and it's payable through the Child Support Division, they're going to be responsible for the collection and payment or accounting of that support. If a party is not providing support, they may seek an administrative order that addresses repercussions for not providing support. And then parties have the ability to go through the circuit court and file an action to enforce that support order that's gone unpaid.

 

So if I'm not gonna pay and I don't care what you guys are saying, what can the court do to me?

 

Well, a number of things actually. I have seen garnishments come in place, where you can go after someone's bank accounts, you know, further at their income, depending on whether wage witholding is set up. There are also sanctions that can occur if someone is not paying where they can lose their driver's license, or have it suspended, because they are not paying the support that they're ordered to provide.

 

Steve Altishin  28:48  

So final question, maybe. Can child support be modified, or is it etched in stone from the beginning?

 

Lisa Parsons  29:02  

No, it can be modified anytime there's an unanticipated substantial change in circumstances. Typically that can mean a job loss, or a raise or promotion, or you're no longer providing childcare expenses and so the support needs to be recalculated. The other piece of that is that the Child Support Division will examine and recalculate support at three years. 

 

Steve Altishin  29:36  

Oh, can parents just do it on their own? 

 

Lisa Parsons  29:39  

They can, but it needs to be through a court order. So if the parents on their own say, 'I'm no longer paying for childcare, or my health insurance premiums have doubled, or my overnights have changed,'-- you know, some substantial change in circumstances--they can see to modify child support and have it recalculated, and then they would need an order that implements that new support award.

 

Steve Altishin  30:13  

But until an order modifies or terminates that support, let's say I lose my job and I have no money, can I just go ahead and stop paying?

 

Lisa Parsons  30:24  

That certainly wouldn't be advisable. You know, support continues to run or be due and payable up until you seek that modification. And still thereafter until a new support order has been signed by the judge. So as soon as you file that motion to modify, it allows you to seek your support award or payment to be changed retroactively. So if you owe $500 per month, you're going to continue to owe $500 per month until a new order is in place. But if you have specified that your support should instead be $300 going forward, you may be able to get an order that changes it back to the date you filed and served your modification action. It's certainly something to talk with your lawyer about. But when you don't pay support, it just makes things a lot harder in the long run, particularly when you don't have an order that allows otherwise. 

 

Steve Altishin  31:34  

Yeah. Well it sounds like all these things are something to talk to your lawyer about. These are not easy issues. That leads me to thanking you, Lisa, for joining us today and for providing insight on child support and how it works, and really at the end of the day, for making it easier for folks like me to understand.

 

Lisa Parsons  31:55  

Thanks for having me, Steve. I appreciate it.

 

Steve Altishin  31:58  

Oh, I appreciate you coming. I also want to thank everyone who tuned in today. If anyone has any questions on today's topic, you can post it here, or you can shoot me an email at [email protected], if there's room on your computer to write all that! And until the next time, stay safe, and have a great day.

 

Outro:

This has been Modern Family Matters, a legal podcast focusing on providing real answers and direction for individuals and families. Our podcast is sponsored by Landerholm Family Law and Pacific Cascade Family Law, serving families in Oregon and Washington. If you are in need of legal counsel or have additional questions about a family law matter important to you, please visit our websites at landerholmlaw.com or pacificcascadefamilylaw.com. You can also call our headquarters at (503) 227-0200 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our seasoned attorneys. Modern Family Matters, advocating for your better tomorrow and offering legal solutions important to the modern family.