Ask a Professional, Ask the Expert, Getting started, Judge Ellsworth (ret.), Need some help, Separation & Divorce, Tips & Lists

How Does a Child Support Hearing Work?

When going through the legal process of divorce with children in the picture, one major hurdle among many is the child support hearing. (3 min read)

Dave Chartier
A single co-parenting dad, a freelance writer and former syndicated dad blogger with work published in USA Today, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

When going through the legal process of divorce with children in the picture, one major hurdle among many is the child support hearing. What you need to know is the judge’s main concern is the well being of the child. They will ask the parent(s) several questions to help determine how the custody arrangement best serves the child or children. All these questions focus on trying to determine the “real” parenting time each parent has as well as their “real” income, who takes which child as a tax deduction, credits for insurance, for example. The answers to these questions are used to input correct information into a computer program like Dissomaster or Xspouse that assists the court in determining child support.

How money plays into the line of questions:

The judge will inquire into each parent’s financial status and ongoing resources to ensure the parent in question can provide essential care (food and shelter) for each child. If you have not already discovered there will be standard forms to fill out that provide a snapshot of your financial status (i.e. income vs. expenses).

  • DON’T: do not attempt to manipulate (over-inflate or under-inflate any of your financial information. Attempts to game the system in this manner are usually transparent to the judge. If you attempt to under-report your income and your ex calls you out as being suspect of voluntary impoverishment, the judge may impute a parent’s income. In other words, child support will be deemed on what the parent should be making based on their income history.

Child custody schedule

This is the time portion of the hearing. There are several types of custody arrangements including sole or joint. When it is appropriate, and abuse is not present, joint custody is the most common schedule chosen by judges as it allows children access to both parents on an ongoing and frequent basis. When you get into the mechanics of this you need to form a proposed structure for the plan which involves custody and/or visitation during holidays, birthdays, scheduled vacations, etc.

That said if a parent is interested in pursuing sole custody be prepared to provide evidence why the child’s other parent should not share custody. Part of this may be revealed by the existing formal or informal custody arrangement that is in play during your separation leading up to the divorce. If your current custody plan (ex. 50/50, 3-4-4-3, 2-2-5-5, etc.) is different than the plan you want to have with your coParent, be prepared to explain why the current one is not working and why it would be in your child’s best interest to change your current plan.

  • DO: research the different custody schedule formulas to see if there is something that will fit your (collective) situation. A word of advice, keep your child’s health and well-being as the focus here. Younger children have different needs than older ones. For example, a younger child may not transition well between lengthy stays with each parent.

What kind of communication do the parents have?

This line of questions is most important when joint custody is being pursued since there will be a lot of communication involved in managing your child’s everyday life. The court’s main concern is what is in the best interest of the child so they will take a look whether or not having both parents play an active role in the child’s life is what will help the child thrive.

If possible, attempt to talk through custody arrangement prior to trial with your coParent. In the case of a joint custody arrangement, this proactive approach will be well received by the court and show in practice your ability to communicate with each other.

  • DON’T: ignore your mail in the time leading up to your divorce trial. It may be overwhelming but time-sensitive material will be coming periodically and your prompt response is needed.

*** Disclaimer: This information is not intended as legal advice. These are all basic principles and information, each case is unique, and the legal options and strategies depend on the unique circumstances. Consider seeking legal advice before acting on information in this document.