What is the Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”)?

The Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”) is the New York Child Support that law that contains the formula for calculating the non-custodial parent’s child support obligations. The relevant laws can be found in Section 240 of the Domestic Relations Law (“DRL”) and Section 413 of the Family Court Act (“FCA”). The CSSA establishes the amount of child support that New York State believes will provide an appropriate standard of living based on the parents income.

Whose income is included in the CSSA?

The income of both parents is included in the child support formula regardless if one parent has sole custody or there is joint custody. This is because both parents have an obligation to support their child under the CSSA.

Does it matter if the parents were never married?

No, the CSSA formula also applies to parents who have been married, parents who have been divorced, and parents who have never been married.

How long does a parent have to pay child support in NY?

Child support is required until the child reaches 21 years old unless they are emancipated earlier.

Does a Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate have to use the CSSA?

Yes, it is mandatory in New York State for a court to determine child based based on the CSSA. The statutory formula must be ordered unless the Court finds that it would be unjust or inappropriate. However, parents can on their own enter into their own child support agreement.

What is the child support formula?

A Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate will determine the appropriate child support by using this formula:

  1. Determining the income of the custodial parent, by taking their gross income and reducing it by the deductions allowable by law
  2. Determining the income of the non-custodial parent, by taking their gross income and reducing it by the deductions allowable by law
  3. Combining their incomes together
  4. Multiple it by the appropriate CSSA percentage (varies depending on the amount of children)
  5. Divide it according to the parties respective incomes

What is considered income for child support calculations?

Income for child support is a particular formula that encompasses various forms of income. The income for child support is not the same as income for tax-reporting to the IRS of New York State Department of Taxation.

The sources of income that are included are:

  • Wages, dividends, interest, business and investment income and capital gains.
  • Voluntary deferred income or compensation
  • Most cash benefits: Workers Compensation, disability (both private and government)
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Social Security and Veterans Benefits
  • Pensions and retirement benefits
  • Fellowships and stipends
  • Annuity Payments

What deductions are permitted under the CSSA?

  • FICA (social security and medicare) taxes
  • New York City or Yonkers income or earning taxes
  • Child support paid on behalf of another child and alimony or maintenance paid to a former spouse, if the payments are made because of a written agreement or court order
  • Alimony or maintenance paid, or agreed to be paid, to the other parent, as long as the agreement or order provides for an increase in child support when the alimony or maintenance payments end
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses, unless they reduced personal expenditures.

What is not considered income for child support calculations?

Public assistance and SSI are not included.

Are there any other forms of income that can be included in child support calculations?

Yes, a Family Court Judge or Child Support Magistrate can include other non-traditional income sources as well. This can include:

  • Money, goods or services provided by relatives or friends
  • Fringe benefits or employee compensation (meals, lodging, memberships, automobiles) which can result in economic benefits to the parent
  • Self-employment or business deductions which reduce personal expenditures

What happens if the non-custodial parent lies about their income?

A Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate does not need to base their calculation on the income that the parent claims to be true but can impute income based on the parents former income or resources, or based on the parents ability to earn.

What about if I received a one-time payment from a third party source, can this be included in child-support?

The general answer is yes, a Family Court Judge or Child Support Magistrate can order a parent to pay a portion of money received from a one time source. Examples of this could be:

  • Life insurance policies
  • The discharge of debts
  • Recovery of bad debts and delinquent amounts
  • Gifts and inheritances
  • Lottery Winnings

What about the child’s health insurance?

A Family Court Judge or Support magistrate must enter an order that requires either parent to provide health insurance benefits for the children, if they are reasonably available and accessible by the parent. The cost of the insurance is to be prorated between the parents. Health insurance benefits are considered “available” if the cost does not exceed 5% of the combined parental income and if the children live within 30 miles or minutes of the provided services.

What about if there is no private insurance option?

A Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate can order that a cash medical support obligation be established against publicly provided insurance.

What about health care expenses?

Reasonable health care expenses should be prorated between the custodial and noncustodial parent.

What about child care expenses?

If the custodial parent is working, attending school, or receiving vocational training which will lead to employment then reasonable child care expenses will be prorated between the parties.

A Family Court Judge or Child Support Magistrate can also order the noncustodial parent to pay or provide for child care when the custodial parent is looking for work.

What about educational expenses?

Yes

What about life insurance?

Yes

What about accident insurance?

Yes

Can the Family Court Judge or Child Support Magistrate order a different amount than the amount determined by CSSA?

Yes, if a parent thinks the formula is too high or too low they can request a change based on the following factors:

  1. The financial resources of the custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent
  2. The financial resources of the child
  3. The child’s physical and emotional health, special needs, and aptitudes
  4. The standard of living the child would have had if parents did not break up
  5. The tax consequences on the custodial and noncustodial parent of child support and add ons
  6. The non-cash contributions a parent makes towards the child’s well being and care
  7. The educational needs of either parent
  8. A substantial difference in the gross income of the parents
  9. The needs of the noncustodial parent’s other children – if the financial resources available to the children is less than the children who are requesting support
  10. Extraordinary visitation expenses or if the custodial parents expenses are substantially reduced due to the visitation schedule
  11. Any other factor that the Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate think is relevant

If the Family Court Judge or Child Support Magistrate does not order the CSSA formula amount then he or she is required to write in the order the formula and the reasons the formula was not ordered.

What about if the non-custodial parent does not sufficient income to pay the CSSA amount?

The formula reduces the amount required to be paid by a non-custodial parent with a very low income.

Does the CSSA apply to temporary orders?

Yes, the law requires that the Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate to make an order for temporary support. However, generally there is not enough information available at the court date for the temporary support hearing so the matter will be adjourned for a final order of support and to adjust any arrears.

It is important to note, that if the combined parental income is over $136,000.00 then the judge or support magistrates can decide to use the following factors in determining the appropriate child support:

  1. The financial resources of the custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent
  2. The financial resources of the child
  3. The child’s physical and emotional health, special needs, and aptitudes
  4. The s standard living the child would have had if parents did not break up
  5. The tax consequences on the custodial and noncustodial parent of child support and add ons
  6. The non-cash contributions a parent makes towards the child’s well being and care
  7. The educational needs of either parent
  8. A substantial difference in the gross income of the parents
  9. The needs of the noncustodial parent’s other children – if the financial resources available to the children is less than the children who are requesting support
  10. Extraordinary visitation expenses or if the custodial parents expenses are substantially reduced due to the visitation schedule
  11. Any other factor that the Family Court Judge or Support Magistrate think is relevant

Can the $136,000 combined income amount change?

Yes, the level is subject to change every two years for a cost of living adjustment.

What is the”total child support obligation”?

This basic child support amount plus the cost of health insurance coverage, child care, health-related expenses that are not covered by insurance along with the appropriate education costs. This total amount is considered the total child support obligation.

What is”basic child support”?

Basic payment is child support formulated by the CSSA.

What is retroactive support?

Retro support is the child support due from the filing of the petition.

What is arrears?

Arrears is child support that is owed from the past

Can a final child support order be changed later on?

Yes, a petition for an upward modification of child support or downward modification of child support can be filed at anytime. However the Court must find that there has been a change in the parents circumstances since the prior order was established. If you recently lost your job, or your pay has been decreased you should file a petition for a downward modification as soon as possible. Any relief that the Family Court Judge or  Support Magistrate orders will be retroactive to the date of filing.

What is the standard to modify an order after trial?

Substantial change in circumstances

What is the standard to modify an agreed upon order?

An unanticipated change of circumstances

When can a parent request a COLA?

Once the orders is more then two years old and it is being enforced by the support collection unit (“SCU”) then either parent can request that SCU be reviewed for a possible cost of living adjustment. Neither parent has to go back to court to do this.

There are two requirements for a COLA:

  1. a New York child support order is at least two years old
  2. the sum of the average annual change in the Consumer Pricing Index-Urban (Cost of Living Adjustment) is equal to or greater than 10%

How to calculate the COLA?

To calculate the adjustment amount, multiply the support obligation amount by the sum of the CPI-U percentages. Then, add this amount to the existing support obligation amount to establish the new obligation amount.

Can parents make their own agreements regarding child support?

Yes, parents can enter into an agreement which provides for more or less then the child support standards act as long as the agreement and order meets certain requirements.

What are the requirements for an agreement outside of the CSSA?

  1. The agreement must contain a statement that both parents are aware of the provisions of the CSSA
  2. If either, or both parents are unrepresented by counsel, that they have been given a copy of the CSSA chart detailing the formula amount.
  3. The basic child support obligation must be stated in the agreement and the order.
  4. If the amount agreed upon is different from the basic child support obligation then the reasons for the different amount must be stated in the agreement and order.