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Work Stoppage May Require Child Support ModificationsThough much of the U.S. economy has come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, many expenses continue on as normal. For parents who have divorced or separated, child support payments are still necessary. Unfortunately, parents may have increased difficulty paying for child-related expenses if they have lost their jobs or are not receiving pay. You need to immediately talk with a divorce lawyer if your income has been reduced, whether you are the payer of child support or the recipient.

Consequences for Payers

The only way to lawfully reduce the amount of child support you pay to your co-parent is by modifying your child support order in court. Losing your job makes you immediately eligible to modify your child support payments, but the courts may be slow to act on it because they are partially shut down due to the virus outbreak. Once your case is heard, the court will likely calculate a new child support amount based on your current income. Unemployment benefits will count towards that income.

If you are already behind on making child support payments, you now have an added incentive to catch up with the payments if you can. The federal stimulus bill includes a one-time payout of $1,200 for adults who meet the income requirements. However, one of the senators who authored the bill has publicly stated that the payment may be offset in part or in full if the recipient is reported to have missed child support payments.

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How the Coronavirus Is Impacting Divorce CasesAll Illinois residents are currently experiencing some disruption in their lives because of the coronavirus epidemic. This includes people who are planning to or in the process of getting divorced. The DuPage County Courthouse has postponed hearings that it does not consider to be urgent until at least April 17. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the virus, there is no way of knowing for certain when hearings will be rescheduled and whether the courthouse will have to take other steps to protect the public. For those who have already completed their divorces, there may be urgent questions about what to do if they cannot comply with the support payments and parenting schedule in their divorce agreement.

Support Payments

Many people are currently unable to work because of businesses closing in response to the epidemic. Others may have significantly reduced hours and pay. Unfortunately, people do not know when their jobs may come back if they come back at all. Lost income affects people in many ways, including their ability to pay child support and spousal maintenance. Violating court-ordered support payments can result in fines and penalties. If you are worried that you will not be able to afford your next child support or maintenance payment, you need to contact a divorce lawyer to discuss:

  • How much you can afford pay while having enough money left to pay for your living expenses
  • Whether you need to request a reduction in your support payments because of the change in your income

You will not be able to schedule a hearing to modify your child support or maintenance payments until your local courthouse is operating at a greater capacity. However, you can still prepare and submit your petition and request that the payments be reduced retroactively.

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Illinois Court Questions Law Requiring Divorced Parents to Pay for CollegeThe Illinois Supreme Court has upheld a portion of the state’s divorce law that can order both parents to help pay for a child’s college education, in response to a circuit court judge who ruled that it was unconstitutional. The circuit court judge had decided that forcing a divorced parent to contribute to college expenses is a violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which promises equal protection under state laws. Rather than argue the merit of the claim, the supreme court said that the circuit court judge lacked the authority to strike down the law because the supreme court had previously ruled that the law was constitutional. Only the supreme court has the authority to overturn that ruling, it said.

College Expenses

The law in question is Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which states that courts may order divorced parents to use their assets and incomes to pay for a child’s post-high school education. Expenses may include:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Books and supplies
  • Reasonable living expenses
  • Medical expenses

Divorced parents can share these expenses by allocating assets in their divorce agreement towards paying for college or continuing child support payments until the child graduates with a bachelor’s degree or turns 23, whichever happens first. The age deadline can be extended to 25 if good cause is shown. Continued child support payments may be dependent upon the child’s academic performance.

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Understanding Illinois’ Shared Parenting Child Support FormulaIllinois calculates the child support payments that one parent owes the other by using an income shares table. To determine your child support payments, you would start by adding up the combined net incomes of yourself and your co-parent. Each row in the income shares table has an income range. When you find the row where your combined incomes fall, you will go across to the column for the number of children you share. The number you see is the base level of the combined child support obligation that you must pay together each month.

Your proportionate incomes will determine the share of the child support obligation that each of you are responsible for. If your income is 60 percent of your combined incomes, then you are responsible for 60 percent of the child support obligation. The nonresidential parent is typically the one who pays child support to the residential parent, even if they have a lower income. The formula for determining the payment amount changes when parents have a shared parenting arrangement.

Shared Parenting Formula

Illinois defines shared parenting as a parenting schedule in which each parent has the children overnight at least 146 times per year, which would be a 60-40 division of parenting time. The formula for calculating child support in a shared parenting arrangement is more complicated than the basic formula:

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Creating a Parenting Agreement for Your Special Needs ChildParents of children with special needs must consider the many ways that a divorce will affect their child, as well as how having a special needs child will affect their divorce. The type of special need can determine how you explain the divorce to your child, as well as the details of your parenting plan and child support. Your divorce agreement may need a plan for how you will share responsibility for your child for the rest of your lives.

Emotional Needs

All children need special attention and emotional support when their parents are getting divorced. However, parents must use extra care when explaining divorce to a child with cognitive disabilities. You know what your child is capable of understanding and how he or she reacts to change. You may need to explain the divorce multiple times and in a way that he or she comprehends. Your child may still not understand the divorce until he or she sees the result. You can be prepared for a bad reaction to the divorce, but your child may still surprise you.

Parenting Time

It may be impractical to have a normal shared parenting schedule, where each parent has the child for a few days during the week. If your child has physical disabilities, you must consider:

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Determining Child Support With an Inconsistent IncomeIllinois calculates the percentage of child support that each parent owes based on their comparative net incomes. The parent who earns a greater income will pay a proportionate share of the child-related expenses. However, child support can be more complicated when one of the parents has an income that varies by month, due to:

  • Working overtime;
  • Receiving bonuses; or
  • Working for a commission.

Extra pay is part of a parent’s net income but usually not included in the child support calculations. How do you ensure that your co-parent is paying a fair amount of child support when he or she cannot give a consistent monthly income? There are three methods of dealing with this:

  1. Calculating the Average: You can add your co-parent’s income from a period of several months and determine his or her average income, which becomes the basis for the child support payments. This is the simplest method because you are establishing a consistent income amount. However, it can be the least accurate depending on how much your co-parent’s income fluctuates. You may need to revisit your child support payments if his or her monthly income greatly deviates from the past average.
  2. Monthly Supplements: Your co-parent may have a base wage that he or she receives each month. You can use that amount as your co-parent’s base monthly income and supplement it each month with any additional pay that he or she receives. This method requires more work because your co-parent must submit his or her pay statements each month. Your child support contributions will reflect your respective incomes, but you are trusting that your co-parent is providing you with accurate information.
  3. True-Up: You can use the third method in conjunction with either of the first two methods. With a true-up, your co-parent provides the pay statements and W-2 income form from the previous year to determine what he or she should have paid in child support for that period. If your co-parent underpaid you, he or she must reimburse the difference. If your co-parent overpaid you, he or she will receive a credit towards future child support payments. You and your co-parent must have a good level of communication and trust for this method to work.

Contact a DuPage County Divorce Attorney

Illinois determines your child support obligation based on the expected cost of raising your children. Allowing your co-parent to exclude income is taking resources away from your children. A Warrenville, Illinois, divorce lawyer at Calabrese Associates, P.C., can make sure that your co-parent is contributing an appropriate amount to your parenting expenses. Schedule a consultation by calling 630-393-3111. 

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Adjusting a College Financing Plan During DivorceGetting divorced can disrupt years of careful planning to pay for your children’s college educations. Both you and your co-parent may not have the financial resources to continue regular payments into a college fund. You may need to adjust your plan, which you can establish in your divorce agreement. Financial aid will also become more important, and your divorced status may increase the amount of aid that your child will be eligible to receive.

College Payment Plan

Illinois law allows you to petition to continue child support payments in order to pay for college after your child has turned 18. However, it may be more efficient to include a college financing plan as part of your divorce agreement than to try to extend your child support payments in the future. You can specify how you will divide the college expenses and other details, such as:

  • Limits on annual payments;
  • How many semesters the payments will continue;
  • What constitutes college expenses, such as textbooks and off-campus housing;
  • Whether there is an age limit for the student;
  • Whether there are restrictions on which college the student may attend, such as a public vs. a private school;
  • Whether the student must maintain a certain grade-point average; and
  • Whether the payments should go to the other parent, the student, or the school.

Financial Aid

College financial aid is available to students who fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or a CSS Profile at participating colleges. Application reviewers will use the income of the student’s parents to determine how much aid the student is eligible for. With FAFSA, a student of divorced parents can report only the income of the parent he or she lives with for a majority of the time. FAFSA will use the parent who pays a greater amount of child support if parenting time is divided equally. Both child support and spousal maintenance payments are part of your income, but a single parent likely has less income than a two-parent household, which should qualify your child for greater financial aid. With CSS financial aid, some colleges require the students to submit incomes from both of their divorced parents.

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When You Can Extend Child Support Beyond Age 18In most cases, divorced or separated parents’ obligation towards child support for an individual child ends when the child turns 18 years old. If there are other children who are still minors, the support payments must be modified to reflect one less child. Otherwise, the support payments end once the last child becomes a non-minor. A parent may not feel like his or her parenting expenses are over if the non-minor child continues to live with him or her or is still financially dependent. There are three situations in which Illinois law allows the primary parent to continue receiving child support payments after the child has become a legal adult.

College Students

Young adults often choose to obtain a post-secondary education, but attending college is expensive. Illinois parents can petition to continue child support payments to cover a non-minor child’s college expenses, including tuition, housing, textbooks, school supplies, food, and medical expenses. Students who commute to school while still living with a parent are eligible, though the living expenses will be less. However, there are qualifications and limitations to the support payments:

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Child Support Needs Adjustments Over TimeThe amount of money needed to raise a child is neither static nor uniform. Different children have different needs, and any of those needs can change as they get older. Yet, child support payments created during a divorce only reflect the financial needs at that time. They cannot predict what the future child support needs will be or any emergency expenses in the present. Divorced parents must be willing to re-examine their child support payments to determine whether the payments are still meeting their children’s needs. They should also have an understanding of how they will pay for unusual expenses that occur.

Child Support Model

Determining the required amount that one parent must pay for child support starts with calculating the parents’ combined financial obligation to the children. The initial amount is based on the parents’ combined incomes and the number of children. Illinois has a table that uses both factors to suggest a combined monthly child support amount from both parents. Parents can add other regular child-related expenses to that monthly total, such as:

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High Income Divorce Can Change Child Support CalculationsThe process for determining child support payments is mostly standardized during Illinois divorce cases. An Illinois divorce judge is likely to adhere to the state’s child support formula, which was recently changed to an income shares model. The parents’ net incomes are combined, and each parent will pay a proportionate percentage of child expenses based on comparative income and the division of parenting time. Illinois’ child support law gives divorce courts discretion in determining the payment in certain circumstance. Thus, child support in high income divorces may be calculated differently than when using Illinois’ standard model.

State Guidelines

In response to the new child support law, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services created a new income shares table for determining child support obligations. The table uses the parents’ combined monthly net incomes and the number of children they have to calculate how much of their incomes should go towards supporting their children. Each parent pays a share of the child expenses that is proportionate to his or her share of the combined incomes. However, the table ends at a combined monthly income of $30,024.99. Illinois law states that the court can use its discretion in determining child support when the combined income exceeds the limits of the table. The only stipulation is that the child support obligation shall not be less than what is listed for the highest income in the table.

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Paternity When the Husband Is Not the Biological FatherWhen a child is conceived or born while a woman is married, Illinois law presumes that the husband is the legal father of the child. In some cases, the husband is not the biological father, possibly because of adultery or a relationship prior to the marriage. If you are the presumed father of a child that is not yours, you may want to free yourself of any financial obligation to the child. Getting divorced will not change presumed paternity, but there are legal processes to establish the biological father as the parent.

Denial of Paternity

If both you and your wife acknowledge that the child is not yours, you can sign a Denial of Paternity form within two years of the child’s birth. The form, which is filed with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, states that:

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