After eight years South Carolina finally updates its child support guidelines

On July 1, 2014 South Carolina’s new child support guidelines went into effect. The updated guidelines can be downloaded here. It is the first revision to these guidelines since 2006.

There are four primary changes from the previous guidelines. The first change is to the child support tables. These tables now go up to incomes of $30,000 per month [the 2006 guideline tables topped-out at $20,000 per month]. This means fewer cases will fall outside of the support guidelines [in South Carolina an income of greater than $360,000 per year represents approximately 1% of all households]. Further the support tables generally provide an increase in the amount of support at most income levels and for two to six children. The support level changes for one child are modest–and sometimes decreases–and the guidelines continue to only cover up to six children.

Paul LeBarron, a staff attorney for South Carolina Department of Social Service’s Integrated Child Support Services Division, who was involved with the update of the guidelines, indicates these new tables reflect increasingly thorough data on the amount of support parents typically provide their children at various income levels. He further notes there is approximately a 2-3% increase in support levels at lower incomes and up to an 8% increase at the middle income levels and higher.

As examples, the support obligation for $2,500 per month in income and three children is $791 per month in the 2006 guideline but $850 per month in the new guidelines. The support obligation for $20,000 income and one child actually goes down–from $1,536 to $1,524–while at the same income level with six children support goes up over 10%–from $2,988 to $3,305. Child support at the new highest income level ($30,000) is $2,043 per month for one child and $4,431 for six children.

The second change regards the handling of day care expenses. Both guidelines allow for a slight reduction in the credited day care expense to reflect tax credits. The percentage reduction has been increased from 25% to 27% but the reduction is now capped at $67.50 per month for one child and $135 for two or more children, which reflects the actual cap in day care tax credits. The custodial parent’s minimum income thresholds for this adjustment have generally increased: $1,950 for one child; $2,600 for two; $2,900 for three; $3,200 for four; $3,500 for five; and $3,800 for six. The new guidelines continue to allow the reduction to be determined by subtracting the actual value of the federal and state tax credit in the last filed IRS Form 2441 and SC 1040, Line 11.

The third change is on the handling of shared custody guidelines when one parent barely meets the threshold of 110 overnights. The new guidelines continue to make application of these shared parenting guidelines discretionary, but for parents who have between 110 and 128 overnights the guidelines now call for a weighted average of the general support guidelines [Schedule A] and the shared custody guidelines [Schedule C], with each additional overnight above 109 increasing the share attributable to Schedule C by 1/19th until full Schedule C is used at 128 overnights. Thus a parent who has 110 overnights would apply 1/19th of the Schedule C guidelines and 18/19ths of the Schedule A guideline. A parent who has 126 overnights would apply 17/19ths of the Schedule C guidelines and 2/19ths of the Schedule A guideline.

The final substantial change is the handling of split custody [Schedule B]–when the parties have more than one child together and each parent has custody of at least one child. The 2006 guidelines determined the basic support amount for the total number of children and then allocated support by the percentage of children each parent had custody of. The new guidelines run two separate support calculations based on the number of children in the custody of each parent, and the difference between the two amounts becomes the basic support obligation.

As an example, under the 2006 guidelines, a couple with three children and a combined income of $5,000 per month would have a combined support obligation of $1,158. The parent with custody of one child would get credited with receiving $386 of that amount and the other parent would receive $772 of that amount. How much support would be paid would be dependant upon the respective shares of the parties’ income. Assuming equal incomes and no other child support factors, the parent with custody of one child would have paid the other parent half of the difference of $772 and $386, or $193 per month.

Under the new guidelines for that same family, the support obligation for one child at that income level is $798 and the obligation for two children is $1,151. Again assuming equal incomes and no other child support factors, the parent with custody of one child will pay the other parent half of the difference of $1,151 and $798, or $176.50 per month.

Revisions to the child support guidelines were long overdue. Federal law requires states to review–but not necessarily revise–these guidelines every four years. Having tables go up to $30,000 per month will result in fewer above-the-guidelines child support cases. The method of resolving split custody more accurately reflects the costs of raising children in two households. The gradual transition between sole and shared custody guidelines should result in fewer hard-fought cases to obtain the 110 overnight threshold. The guidelines in general more accurately reflect the tax consequences of day care. The changes in the 2014 guidelines are uniformly improvements.

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