So who pays for the kids after the divorce?

Last week we left off talking about the equitable distribution of assets and liabilities. The concept of equitable distribution is difficult to explain without applying it to a particular set of circumstances.

Let’s say you have been married between 10 and 20 years, have a couple of kids, and most everything you own has been accumulated during the marriage. Both you and your spouse work. You own your house. Okay, so you and the bank own your house. Maybe your folks gave you a little something which you used as the down payment for the house. Although each of you has good employable skills, dad earns about twice what mom earns. Who said life was fair? Dad is really crazy about the kids, but mom has been doing the lion’s share of parenting since day one.

Or, maybe mom hasn’t worked outside the home since the first child was born 15 years ago. Dad earns a good salary, and when he retires in 15 or so years, he will receive a healthy monthly pension check, just for waking up in the morning.

So what is a fair and equitable settlement? Is fair and equitable the same in each situation? Probably not.

In the second example, mom has not worked outside the home for many years. She may not have an employable skill. How will she support herself and perhaps the kids? If the assets are divided equally– and considering that dad earns a good salary and mom does not — is that an equitable distribution? What about dad’s pension or retirement benefits? Any suggest on how we should deal with that?

What’s that you say, dad? What do you mean I have to share my retirement benefits with her?

Remember kids, I’m just the messenger here. I don’t make the rules, I just report them.
What about child support? Wyoming has child support “guidelines” which the lawyers and judges use to estimate the amount of support payable in each case. Here is a little-known fact which I believe is appearing in print for the first time anywhere: the child support guidelines were developed by a group of sleep-deprived chimpanzees who, for a period of three weeks, were intravenously fed a diet of Jim Beam and Hostess Twinkies, and then given multiple-choice questions while watching reruns of “Gillian’s Island” and “I Love Lucy” through 3-D glasses.

I want to put your mind at ease, though. Apparently, there is a very high reliability factor in the results because only chimpanzees with five or more children were selected for this project. (You would not believe the divorce rate among chimps. Personally, I think hanging out in the trees and eating bananas all day is harder on a relationship than you might imagine.)

I’d like to tell you that child support is the one issue in every divorce proceeding on which the parents always agree. But I’d also like to tell you that you just won the lottery. I can’t do either. I can accurately tell you that the parent with whom the children spend the majority of time will typically receive child support, and you can probably guess what the other parent will typically do.

In just about every divorce case, one parent says that the amount of child support is way too much while the other parent says it’s outrageously low. How can that be? I suppose that’s why they call it child support.

So, how is child support actually calculated? Our wonderful legislators in Cheyenne– with the help of their wonderful legislator friends in Washington — have developed guidelines for calculating child support which they have foisted on lawyers just so that everybody will have yet one more reason to hate us.

Let’s say you have three children who live with their dad. Each parent works at a job outside the home. We first calculate the net income of each spouse (which generally is the gross amount of your paycheck minus federal taxes), then add the two net incomes together.

In our example dad has a net income of $1,000 a month, and mom brings home $2,000 a month. Their combined net income is $3,000. Your lawyer then slips on his 3-D glasses, turns to the legislator-developed child support chart, finds the section for $3,000 combined net income, and bingo — there’s the answer.

The chimpanzees have spoken, and they say that for a now-defunct family of five, earning $3,000 a month net income, it takes approximately $750 per month to support the children. Mom earns 66.6% of the net income, and dad earns 33.3%. Mom then gets to pay dad 66.6% of the $750, or a total of $500 per month.

There are a number of factors other than income which the guidelines include for consideration in calculating child support. They include travel expenses to visit the children, extraordinary health-related medical costs, age of the children, and others which may be used to either increase or decrease child support according to each situation. Income of the spouses, though, is by far the main factor in determining child support.

We have touched on only a few of the many issues which need to be resolved before the divorce process is concluded. There is a lengthy laundry list of such things, including scheduling of each parent’s time with the children, deciding what to do with the house, dividing the personal property, medical insurance for the children, taxes and tax consequences resulting from the division of assets and liabilities, deciding whether to establish a college fund, and more.

The divorce process can take a year to complete. How can that possibly be? And you thought lawyers got paid by the word. We actually get paid by the month. (Just kidding.)

The court calendar in Teton County is such that it takes roughly six months to get a date after a party requests a trial. That’s a lot to time to be spending in divorce land, but you would be amazed how much there is to deal with and to argue about.