Frequently Asked Questions about Michigan Child Support Law
The Friend of the Court, or the court itself, will require the parties to produce tax returns or verified statements of income. If parties are self-employed, then the court will decide what expenses are justified. If parties are not employed at all, the court will decide if they have “unexercised ability to earn” and then perhaps “impute” the income they could, in fact, earn. Once income is known, then the Child Support Guidelines (a statewide, mandatory computer formula) is applied.
The formula is based on incomes, the number of children, and the number of overnights primarily. The formula takes into account children from another relationship or marriage that a parent is also supporting as well as mandatory union dues and other fixed costs.
There are a few times that a court will actually deviate from the formula, but not often.
Child support is owed until a child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, but in no event beyond the age of 19-1/2 years old. If the child remains in high school after he/she turns 18, that child must have a reasonable chance of graduating from high school.
The court cannot order parents to pay for college or pay "post-majority" support. If parties agree to this, however, the court can enforce this agreement.
It used to be that you paid the local Friend of the Court; however, Michigan now requires people to pay through offices in Lansing. Because support is now collected at a statewide level, the State can distribute payments to numerous payees if a payor has a child in more than one county or subject to more than one court proceeding. If John Doe has 3 children to whom he owes $200/month each but he only makes a $300 payment instead of a $600 payment, then the court will distribute to each mother $100 of the $300 received. This is to avoid Mr. Doe’s attempt to pay more support to one of his children than another. Also, the state now has the ability to enforce child support orders by suspending drivers license's and professional licenses and by putting a hold on bank accounts in which a payor has an interest (whether disclosed or not).
In most cases where a payor is employed, there is an “order of income withholding” entered by the court and sent to the employer. This order requires the employer to withhold the child support that has been ordered from that parent’s paycheck. Parties can “opt out” of having the FOC collect the child support, and they can agree to automatic withdrawals and deposits from private bank accounts. In today’s world, most court-ordered child support is paid through orders of income withholding. That has made it less likely that the court will have to “enforce” a child support order—but this, of course, depends on continued employment.
Child support is always modifiable. The FOC is usually willing to consider a motion to modify support every 2-3 years. Both child and spousal support can be adjusted periodically (assuming spousal support was not “non-modifiable). The party seeking modification must file a motion to modify support, and then the modification can only be retroactive to the date of that petition and not before (absent narrow circumstances like fraud in stating income).