In the State of Delaware, both parents are legally obligated to support their children until the age of 18. In some circumstances, the obligation extends to the age of 19 if a child is still in high school. In those cases, the obligation ends when the child turns 19 or graduates. Delaware follows a child support model called the Melson Model, a complicated model that is a variation of the Income Shares Model used by many other states. The Melson Model, like the Income Shares Model, calculates the cost of raising a child in one household, where a family is intact and divides the amount based on each parent’s income. What sets the Melson Model apart is that it provides room for adjustments to better serve the economic status of the child’s parents, such as a self-support allowance and a standard of living adjustment.
Courts in Delaware will usually refer to the Delaware Child Support Guidelines. These are presumed to be fair and just. The guidelines are often examined and revised, so be sure to have a current version when relying on its information. Support forms 509 and 509-I are manual worksheets to help you calculate an estimated cost of child support along with an automatic calculator, which are all available on the Delaware Family Court Website.
If a divorce case involves child support, parents will be required to attend mediation. Both parents will be required to supply documents to show income. Some documents include a W-2 forms, three recent pay stubs, recent tax returns, social security payments, just to name a few. The primary support obligation is based on the net income of both parents. Net income takes into consideration gross income minus allowable deductions and self- support allowances, which allows the Court to determine the minimum a parent requires to meet their basic needs and stay in the workplace. Sometimes, adjustments will be considered, like other children being supported, both in and out of the household, which will take available funds from that parent. When calculating your net income, form 509-I will specify what allowable deductions from your gross income (wages, bonuses, alimony, commissions, etc.). Some allowable deductions may include:
- Health insurance premiums
- Income tax payments
- Disability insurance premiums
- Union dues
Each parent’s percentage of the primary support obligation will be the individual net income divided by the combined net income. Other considerations to the primary support obligation may be the cost of health insurance for the child, potential child care expense so that the custodial parent can continue to work, and any other expenses the court deems important to the case, such as the cost of a special needs child.
The court will also take into consideration the financial effect of child custody. If one parent spends more time with a child, then that parent spends more money on that child, and child support payments need to reflect that difference. Sometimes deviations may occur, though rare. If the court finds the outcome of using the guidelines to be unjust to one parent or child, they may deviate and adjust the primary support obligation to better serve the family.
Any avoidance of payments by voluntary unemployment or underemployment will result in a court-ordered payment based on the employment potential of that parent. If the court cannot determine that income, it will be at least one-half of the statewide median wage.
Parents may convince the Court to adjust the terms of the payments if they can prove the extreme and continuing change in financial circumstances. This can mean the loss of a job to one parent, the gain of a much higher paying job to the other, and/or the change in child custody, to name a few instances. As stated earlier, parents are obligated to support their children until a full-time high school student turns 19 or a high school graduate turns 18. Contact one of our attorneys at our Delaware office for a legal advice.