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Is the Michigan Child Support Formula Mandatory?

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Is the MCSF mandatory? No; nor does it tell the whole story.

Generally, the issue of the amount of child support is referred to the Friend of the Court. This wing of the Court will conduct an investigation and make a recommendation as to the amount of child support. The Friend of the Court utilizes the Child Support Guidelines incorporated into a computer program and manual. The Friend of the Court will take into account many factors in making a recommendation, which are included in the text version as well as software version of the Child Support Guidelines. A non-custodial parent will generally pay a percentage of his or her net income after taxes.

The MCSF Guidelines are advisory, not mandatory. Yup. Read that again. Despite what you may have heard!

The court must deviate from the Guidelines when the recommended amount is "unjust or inappropriate." What is "unjust or inappropriate" is determined by the facts of each case. The Friend of the Court advises that good facts for deviation will arise around the following factors:

(a) The child has special needs

(b) The child has extraordinary educational expenses

(c) One or both of the parents are minors

(d) The payor has sufficient income to raise the child's income above the threshold for public assistance.

(e) Debt

(f) Property awards in lieu of support

(g) Incarceration

(h) Extraordinary medical expenses

(i) Unaccounted income

(j) Extraordinary bonuses

(k) Health care coverage

Keep in mind, the court may deviate from the guidelines if the recommendation is "unjust or inappropriate." This does not mean the parties disagree, or either one of them, but that there is some other factor the guidelines do not consider.

The parties' agreement to deviate is sufficient if the court determines it is in the child's best interests and if the parties disclose certain financial information defined by statute, including that neither party or child has received or is receiving government needs-based benefits, such as food benefits.

This list is not exclusive. The court must exercise discretion and consider all factors relevant to the case, the best interest of the child, and the financial ability of the payor. The payor's "financial ability" means actual resources, and income imputation is generally only appropriate when the payor is in bad faith voluntarily unemployed or underemployed or has underreported income. Actual income means all income, not just income gained through employment. Income also includes withdrawals from IRAs and reasonable rates of return for properties. Overall, the Friend of the Court and/or the court should consider the parties' "financial condition" and all "relevant factors" when computing income for child support purposes.

THERE ARE PLENTY OF OTHER THINGS PARENTS PAY FOR, DAILY: Your child costs more than the minimum the guidelines recommend. Some of these things, such as college funds, the court cannot order either parent to pay. But, you may negotiate a payment arrangement with your ex. You should also consider negotiating extra expenses, as they arise, such as: driver's training, overseas field trips and private school tuition. Always talk to a lawyer about drafting language, as some of these agreements you cannot modify. But, most important, do not assume the guidelines are correct, binding and the only amount a parent has to pay.

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