Child Support in a Nutshell

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What Is Child Support?

Child support is a parent’s court-ordered payment to help with the costs of raising a child. Child support normally stops when a child turns 18. But a judge can order support for a child who is between 18 and 19 ½ if the child:

  • Attends high school full-time, 
  • Has a reasonable expectation of graduating, and
  • Lives full-time with the parent that gets child support or at an institution

Child support normally includes a base amount, plus amounts for health care and child care costs. Child support can be ordered in a:

  • Paternity or custody case (if the parents were never married)
  • Divorce case
  • Support case

Children have a legal right to financial support from both parents. A parent can't avoid paying child support by agreeing not to have parenting time (visitation) or by agreeing to have their parental rights terminated. Sometimes a parent must continue to pay child support even after their parental rights have been terminated. If your child's other parent owes support you also cannot limit parenting time as a way to enforce child support.

Who Pays Child Support?

The Michigan Child Support Formula determines which parent will pay child support and the support amount, based on factors including each parent's income and the number of nights per year that the child spends with each parent (called "overnights").

The person who pays child support is the “payer.” The person who gets child support is the “payee.” If the payee or the child gets public assistance, the child support payments may go to the state instead of the payee.

Calculation of Child Support

The amount of child support is calculated using the Michigan Child Support Formula. It takes into account the following factors:

  • The parents’ incomes
  • The number of nights per year ("overnights") the child spends with each parent 
  • The number of children supported
  • Health care costs
  • Child care costs
  • Other factors

The judge must order support according to the Formula unless the result would be unfair or inappropriate. Even if you and the other parent agree to a deviation (a support amount different from the Formula calculation), you still have to convince the judge that the Formula amount would be unfair or inappropriate. If you are asking for a deviation, you must fill out an extra form called the Uniform Child Support Order Deviation Addendum. Bring the form to your court hearing along with the completed Uniform Child Support Order.

The Michigan Child Support Formula Manual lists 20 reasons (called deviation factors) that the Formula amount could be unfair or inappropriate. You can find these in Section 1.04(E) of the Manual. If you want to ask the court for a deviation from the Formula and any of these factors apply to your situation, bring them up at your hearing and refer to them in your Deviation Addendum. You may want a lawyer to help you with this. It can be hard to prove that there should be a deviation from the Formula.

You can use the MiChildSupport Calculator on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) website to find out what the Formula calculation might be in your case.

Uniform Child Support Order

To start child support, a judge signs an order called a Uniform Child Support Order (UCSO). The UCSO will include the following obligations:

  • Base support
  • Medical support
  • Childcare expenses

The calculation of the base support amount uses both parents' net income and number of parenting time overnights.

Medical support includes ordinary and additional medical expenses, health care coverage, and division of premiums. Ordinary medical expenses are costs for uninsured medical expenses like co-pays and deductibles. Ordinary medical expenses do not include care provided by parents, like first aid supplies and over-the-counter medicines. Ordinary medical expenses are currently $454 per year for one child. Additional medical expenses are uninsured costs above the amount allowed for ordinary medical expenses in a calendar year. These additional expenses are called uninsured health-care expenses in the UCSO. Usually each parent is ordered to pay a percentage of additional medical expenses based on income.

Amounts for childcare are based on actual costs when the parties have an established child care pattern and can verify they have actual, predictable, and reasonable child care expenses.

The court will order one of the parents to provide health care coverage for the child.  This could be private coverage provided as a benefit of employment, purchased, or provided through other means (a parent’s spouse or household member). Or in some cases, it could be public coverage like MIChild or Medicaid. The court will consider several factors from the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual to determine which parent should provide coverage.

Collection of Child Support Payments

The Michigan State Disbursement Unit (MiSDU) and the FOC work together to collect and distribute child support payments. In most cases, child support payments are automatically withheld from the payer’s wages and MiSDU forwards them to the payee. Both the payer and the payee get a copy of the income withholding order when support is paid this way.

Sometimes income withholding is not possible because the payer is self-employed or for other reasons. In those cases there are other ways to make payments. The payer can make payments directly to MiSDU, or in some limited cases to the FOC. Sometimes the parties agree to an alternative payment arrangement. If payments are not made through MiSDU or the FOC, the payee must let the FOC know they received the payments so the payer gets credit.

To learn about payment options, visit the MiSDU website.

Reimbursement for Additional Medical Expenses

For the payee to seek reimbursement of additional medical expenses, they need to show that the ordered total annual ordinary medical expense amount for all children was exceeded. 

Enforcement of Child Support Orders

Child support orders are enforceable whether the order is ex parte, temporary, final, or a modification of a previous order. Some enforcement methods may only be used for the collection of past-due support payments, called “arrearages.” Enforcement methods include:

  • Withholding income from a payer’s wages

  • Placing a lien on a payer’s real or personal property

  • Garnishing state and federal tax refunds

  • Suspending driver's, occupational, sporting and/or recreational licenses

  • Contempt proceedings

If the payer fails to pay and income withholding does not work or is not an option, the Friend of the Court or the payee can file a Motion to Show Cause. If the judge decides the payer has the ability to pay some or all of the amount owed, the payer can be held in contempt of court. Common penalties for contempt include jail time and fines. 

Imputing Income

When a parent chooses to reduce or eliminate their income, the judge may decide they have the ability to earn more. In this case, the judge may calculate and order support based on imputed (potential) income. Imputed income is the amount the judge decides the parent has the ability to earn. It is not the amount actually earned. 

If you believe income should be imputed to the other party in the child support calculation, you may want to talk to a lawyer. Proving that income should be imputed is difficult. 

State Assistance

When a custodial parent lives apart from the other parent, and the custodial parent and/or the child receives public assistance, MDHHS may seek a child support order in the custodial parent’s name. The custodial parent can’t waive child support in these cases.

If the custodial parent gets cash assistance (FIP) for one child, they can get up to $100 in child support each month. If they get cash assistance for two or more children, they can get up to $200 in child support each month. The FIP cash assistance amount will not change.

If you are going to get child support and you also receive other types of state assistance like food assistance or Medicaid, contact your MDHHS specialist to discuss how child support payments will impact other types of state assistance you or your family members receive. If there are impacts, your MDHHS specialist will help determine what other programs are available to you and your family.

For other information about child support and state assistance, go to the MiChildSupport website.

Social Security Benefits

Only Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is a social security benefit paid to a person who has a work history and becomes disabled. The amount of SSDI a person gets is based on how much the person has earned in the past. The more work history a person has, the more SSDI they can receive. A parent who receives SSDI (and not Supplemental Security Income, or SSI) can be required to pay child support. SSDI will be counted as income in determining the amount of support.

If you get SSDI, your dependent children may be able to get SSDI dependent benefits. Consider applying for SSDI dependent benefits on behalf of your children. How much your children get depends on your earnings record. The court will count your children’s SSDI benefits towards payment of your child support obligation. The court may also order you to pay some additional child support. Usually, you will only be ordered to pay additional money if the dependent benefit your children get is less than the amount of child support that should be paid. If your children start getting dependent benefits after the initial child support order is entered, you can file a motion to change child support to make sure you are being credited for the benefits.

Only Social Security Retirement (SSR)

SSR is a social security benefit based only on work history. A parent who receives only SSR (and not SSI) can be required to pay child support. SSR will be counted as income in determining the amount of support.

Only Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a program that makes monthly payments to elderly, blind, or disabled people with low income and few resources. The basic SSI amount is the same nationwide, although many states, including Michigan, add money to the basic benefit. A parent can’t be forced to pay child support if their only income is SSI.

The Michigan Child Support Formula says SSI should not be counted as income when calculating child support. If you are a parent getting SSI, tell the judge. Get a statement from the Social Security Administration stating that you get SSI and give this statement to the judge. If a Friend of the Court worker is calculating child support for you, provide this information to them.

If you were ordered to pay child support before you started getting SSI, you can file a motion to have it changed. Use the Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change or Get Child Support tool to prepare a motion.


If you receive SSDI or SSR as well as SSI, none of them can be garnished for child support.

Credit for Dependent Benefits

Your child may get a dependent benefit based on the earnings record of a parent, such as SSD dependent benefits, retirement, survivor's, or any other benefits from a government insurance program like Social Security, Veteran's Administration, or Railroad Retirement. The amount of the benefit will be credited to the payer when calculating child support. Usually, the payer will only be ordered to pay additional money if the amount of SSD or other type of benefit the child gets is less than the amount of child support that should be paid.

If the child begins to receive dependent benefits after the initial child support order is entered, the payer can file a motion to change child support to make sure the dependent benefit credit is applied. You can use the Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change or Get Child Support tool to prepare your forms.

Changing Child Support

The Friend of the Court Can Review Child Support

In general, child support orders can be changed until the child reaches the age of 18, or 19 ½ when child support is ordered to this age. The Friend of the Court automatically reviews child support orders once every 36 months if the child or custodial parent gets public assistance. The FOC also reviews a child support order if a party makes a written request for a review. However, it will not do this more than once every 36 months unless the party asking for the review can show there has been a major change in circumstances (for example, a change in the payer’s job or in the custody arrangement).

The FOC will only ask the judge to change child support if the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is at least 10 percent or $50 per month, whichever is more. If the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is less, the FOC doesn’t have to ask the judge to change it.

Either Parent Can File a Motion to Change Child Support

Either parent can file a motion asking the judge to change child support. You can use our Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change or Get Child Support tool. Examples of when a motion may be filed are when the parents informally change custody arrangements or when either parent’s job changes.

When parents make a change in the custody arrangement, child support isn’t automatically changed. Child support will still be charged to the payer as stated in the most recent order. It won't change until someone files a Motion Regarding Support and the judge signs an order changing the amount.

When a parent changes jobs, that person could end up making more or less money. The judge needs to know about a change in either parent’s income because it could change the amount of child support.

In both of these situations one of the parties should quickly file a motion to change support. Past due child support amounts normally cannot be changed retroactively. This means the judge cannot change the amount of a child support payment after that payment is due.

When a Payer Goes to Jail or Prison

As of December 30, 2021, if a child support payer will be incarcerated for 180 consecutive days or more and will not have the ability to pay support, support will abate (stop charging) during the incarceration. The Friend of the Court will send a notice of abatement to the payer and the recipient of support. Support will not start charging again until the first day of the first month following the 90th day after release from incarceration, or later.

When a Payer Is Incapacitated

Sometimes a payer of support may become incapacitated, or unable to earn an income for a period that will likely last 180 days or longer due to disability, mental incompetency, serious injury, or serious illness. As of December 1, 2021, if a payer becomes incapacitated, a judge may set their child support obligation at zero. A party in the case should file a motion to change support as soon as possible after the payer becomes incapacitated.

Finding a Lawyer

You might decide you want a lawyer to help you with your case. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.