Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

New Expenses Like College Tuition, Or a Big Raise, Can Lead To Higher Child Support Payments

“Natalie” wonders if the child support her former husband pays can be increased. “Our situation has changed. Our oldest starts college in the fall and this will be a big expense, even with his partial scholarship. Plus, he’s going to need his own car and I think his dad ought to help with the payments and insurance, but his father doesn’t think he needs a car.”


“Natalie” was divorced in 2001 and granted primary physical custody of their three children. Both parents are well-paid, although her husband earns considerably more. She lives in the suburbs and the children have attended public schools so tuition hasn’t been a factor until now.


Natalie’s correct…she has new expenses versus just a few years earlier. In addition, both parents’ incomes have increased and this is important because child support is based on the total income of the parents and the number of children. However, what Natalie doesn’t know is that Missouri has updated it guidelines for determining child support twice since her divorce, in 2002 and now again in 2005.


And, as regular readers of this column know, these new guidelines include a surprise for upper income parents. According to Missouri’s guidelines, wealthier families have lower child rearing costs in 2005 than they did in 2002 and 1998, assuming all the relevant facts have remained the same. For example, if Natalie’s situation had not changed, the latest guidelines indicate that her child rearing expenses are now 12% lower than the 1998 guidelines projected.


Known as the “Child Support Chart”, the guidelines calculate the monthly child support one divorced parent pays the other. It works like an IRS tax table, factoring in each parent’s monthly income, with certain offsets such as for any alimony that’s paid, to arrive at an “adjusted” monthly income. Then, using the combined adjusted income of both parents and the number of children, the Chart identifies the “basic monthly cost of child support” for that family. This “basic level” is apportioned between the parents pro-rata with each parent’s income.


For example, if the Chart calculates that the “basic level” child support is $1,000 per month, and each parent earns the same income, then each would be responsible for half, or $500. The parent without day-to-day physical custody would be required to pay $500 monthly to the other parent. (However, the paying parent’s obligation can be reduced based upon how often he/she has overnight custody.)


The “basic level” can be adjusted to include “extraordinary” expenses such as health insurance for the children and uninsured medical expenses over $250 annually, as well as work-related child care. However, the court has also allowed adjustments for private school and college tuition, expenses for a child’s car, and even for a child's extracurricular activities.


As for “Natalie”…since 2001, when she divorced, her income has increased from $5,500 per month to $9,000, while her husband’s has moved from $9,000 to $11,500/month. Throw in an additional $20,000 a year in college expenses not covered by the scholarship, and $300 in monthly car expense for their oldest child, and we have a markedly different situation than just four years earlier.


Missouri courts usually require a 20% change in on-going child rearing costs before they will order a corresponding change in the support payment, which can only be gained by filing a “motion to modify”. If I filed such a motion for “Natalie”, I would ask that her husband’s monthly payment be increased 63% from $1456, the amount allowed under the 1998 Chart, to $2368, based on new circumstances using the 2005 Chart. I think the court would agree.