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Child Support in a Nutshell


    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 court 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.

    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 court must order support according to the formula unless the result would be unfair or inappropriate. If the parents reach an agreement about the child support amount, the court can consider the agreement, but does not have to approve it. If you have agreed to child support in an amount different from the formula, you must fill out an extra form, the Uniform Child Support Order Deviation Addendum. File this form with your Uniform Child Support Order.

    You can use the MiChildSupport Calculator on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website to find out what the support amount might be in your case.

    Uniform Child Support Order

    When child support is ordered, the court issues an order called a Uniform Child Support Order (UCSO). The UCSO requires the payer to pay a monthly amount for child support. The monthly amount includes base support, plus or minus the amount that either parent pays for health care insurance premiums.

    For example, if the payer provides health care insurance for the children and pays a premium for that insurance, part of the premium cost may be subtracted from the base support amount.

    If the payee provides health care insurance for the children and pays a premium for that insurance, part of the premium cost may be added to the base support amount.

    The monthly child support amount also includes amounts for child care (based on the actual costs) and for ordinary medical expenses (currently $403.00 per year for one child). 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.

    The UCSO also states how additional medical expenses should be paid. Additional medical expenses are uninsured costs that are 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.

    It is up to the payee to provide proof of both ordinary and additional medical expenses and to ask the payer to pay their share of the additional costs. The payee should send the payer a request for payment within 28 days after the insurer's final payment or denial of coverage. If the payer does not pay their share of the uninsured portion within 28 days after the payee's request, the payee can ask the Friend of the Court to enforce the payment.

    Collection of Child Support Payments

    The Michigan State Disbursement Unit (MiSDU) and the Friend of the Court (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. Sometimes the parties agree to an alternative payment arrangement. If payments are not made through MiSDU, the payee must let the FOC know they received the payments so the payer gets credit.

    Payments can also be made using PayNearMe at places like 7-Eleven, CVS, Family Dollar Store, and Wal-Mart. There is a convenience fee to make payments this way, ranging from $1.99 to $3.99. Along with the money for the support payment and extra fee, the payer will need to bring the case number (issued by the county) and the IV-D case number (issued by the state). For more details, visit the MiSDU website.

    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

    After a certain amount of arrearages build up, the Friend of the Court or the payee can file a Motion to Show Cause. If the court 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 court may decide they have the ability to earn more. In this case, the court may calculate and order support based on imputed (potential) income. Imputed income is the amount the court decides the parent has the ability to earn. It is not the amount actually earned.

    MDHHS Benefits

    When a custodial parent doesn't live with the other parent, and the custodial parent and/or the child receives public assistance, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) may seek a child support order in the custodial parent’s name. The custodial parent continues to receive the MDHHS benefits, and child support is paid to the state. The custodial parent can’t waive child support in these cases.

    Social Security Benefits

    Child support payments can be withheld from a parent’s Social Security income depending on the type of Social Security that the parent receives.

    Social Security Disability (SSD)

    SSD (also called SSDI) is a social security benefit paid to the disabled or blind. The amount of SSD a person gets is based on how much the person has earned in the past. The more work history a person has, the more SSD they can receive. A parent whose sole income is SSD can be ordered to pay child support. SSD can be used for both current and past-due child support.

    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 his or her 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 court. Get a statement from the Social Security Administration stating that you get SSI and give this statement to the court. If a Friend of the Court worker is calculating child support for you, provide this information to them.

    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. If the dependent benefit is based on the payer's earning record, 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 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 court to change child support if the difference between the current support amount and the new amount is at least 10 percent or $50.00 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 court to change it.

    Either Parent Can File a Motion to Change Child Support

    Either parent can file a motion to ask the court to change child support. You can use our Do-It-Yourself Motion to Change or Get Child Support. 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 court 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 court cannot change the amount of a child support payment after that payment is due.