Child Support in Virginia
Child support cases in Virginia range from very simple matters involving routine application of the Virginia child support guidelines, to very complex cases involving the imputation of income to a party who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.
Determination of Child Support Obligation. Ideally, parents of a minor child will reach an agreement as to the amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent. If they are unable to agree, the custodial parent may petition a judge to determine the amount under Virginia’s “child support guidelines.” The guidelines are a mathematical formula, established under the Virginia Code. The guidelines take into account each parent’s income, the support by either parent of “other children” (such as by prior marriages), day care expenses and health care costs. In some cases, based on extraordinary circumstances, the judge may “deviate” from the guidelines, and order an amount of child support different from that established under the guidelines.
What Virginia Counts as Income. For purposes of calculating child support, the Virginia guidelines take into account the gross monthly income of both parties. This is your income prior to taxes being taken out. Virginia has a very broad definition of what it counts as income. Virginia defines income as not limited to but including “salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits… unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, veterans’ benefits, spousal support, rental income, gifts, prizes or awards.” It is important to note that the child support guidelines take into account all income, not just taxable income. This is especially relevant for military servicemembers, as Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) are not taxable but are included as income for purposes of calculating child support.
When Child Support Should Begin. Child support is paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. That is to say that the parent who does not live with the child will pay support to the parent who does live with the child. Although a court order is the best indicator of when support is due, the non-custodial parent should always provide some financial support for his or her children. Keep in mind that if a party files for child support with the court, any award that is made will be retroactive to the date the petition was filed. That is, if no support is paid between the time petitions are filed for child support and the date child support is awarded by a court, then an arrearage will result.
Denial of Visitation. Non-custodial parents often ask, “do I still have to pay child support if the custodial parent is denying me visitation with the child?” The answer is yes. Child support is a separate issue from visitation with a child. A custodial parent should never use visitation with a parent as leverage to obtain more child support just as a non-custodial parent should never withhold child support to gain more visitation. The appropriate course of action if visitation is being denied or support is not being paid is to file petitions for either visitation or child support with the court.
Voluntary Reduction of Income. If a parent voluntarily leaves a higher paying position to take a lesser paying job, then the court can still calculate support based on that parent’s higher income at the former job. In this case, the court would say the parent as “voluntarily underemployed.” If a parent simply quits his or her job, or is fired as a result of misconduct, then the court will say that parent is “voluntarily unemployed,” and continue to calculate child support based on the income from that job.
Modification of Child Support
Increase or Decrease in Amount. The amount of child support ordered by the judge may be increased or decreased based on a “material change of circumstances.” If circumstances—such as your income or the other parent’s income—change, you should check with an attorney to determine whether you should petition the court for an increase or decrease (as appropriate) of the child support amount.
Termination. Child support ends upon emancipation of a child. This occurs when a child reaches the age of 18, enters into a valid marriage, is on active duty with any of the armed forces, or has willingly lived separate and apart from their parents or guardian with the parents’ consent and is capable of supporting themselves. Child support will continue for a child who is over the age of 18 if they are a full time high school student, not self supporting and living in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support.
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