This page explains the South Carolina law on child support, including how the amount of support gets figured, how parents can modify support, when the court orders for the support to be withheld from paychecks, and when the court will deviate from the South Carolina support calculator. There is a link below to the calculator where you can enter your figures and quickly obtain an estimate of what you can expect the SC family court to order.
South Carolina Child Support Calculator
Child support is one of the few things in divorce that is relatively certain. For the majority of divorces involving minor children, the amount of support to be paid is a straightforward application of a formula that is entirely a creature of statute, and most anyone can do the calculation easily. South Carolina uses a model called "income shares" to figure the amount of support required from each parent. The formula turns on the following factors:
The combined gross income of the mother and the father.
Each parent’s gross income as a percentage of the combined gross income.
Any pre-existing obligation to pay child support or alimony.
The number of minor children of the parties.
The amount paid for work-related child care.
The amount paid for health insurance for the children, and the party responsible for paying it.
The number of overnights per year with each parent.
You can estimate the amount of support you will be ordered to pay by the South Carolina Family Court by using the South Carolina Support Calculator. This is the same site the judge will use in court.
Modification of South Carolina Child Support Order
Either parent can force child support to be reviewed at any time if there has been a substantial change of circumstances. The way to force the modification is to file a Petition to Modify, which requires payment of the filing fee applicable in the county where the petition is filed.
A party is entitled to such a modification if he can show an unanticipated substantial change in circumstances. Butler v. Butler, 385 S.C. 328, 336, 684 S.E.2d 191, 195 (Ct.App.2009). " The party seeking modification bears the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the unforeseen change has occurred." Id. (quotations omitted). This burden is always a high one, hence the requirement that the change in circumstances be " substantial." However, the burden is not increased where the support award is based on a settlement agreement.
One way to manage child support, if you and the other parent are cooperative and talking to each other, is simply to share your 1040's each year and recalculate child support informally. If you find out that it's time for it to change, you can simply have one lawyer prepare a Joint Petition to Modify that you both sign and file.
It is not a good idea to simply begin paying an amount lower than that determined by the court. If you're the one paying, and you begin paying a lower amount, any time the other parent gets angry with you, or just needs more money, he or she can go back to court and recover the deficiency, no matter how many times he or she may have assured you that it was okay for you to pay less.
There is no statute of limitations on the collection of court ordered child support.
“The family court may always modify child support upon a proper showing of a change in either the child’s needs or the supporting parent’s financial ability.” Upchurch v. Upchurch, 367 S.C. 16, 26, 624 S.E.2d 643, 647-48 (2006); Calvert v. Calvert, 287 S.C. 130, 336 S.E.2d 884 (Ct App. 1985) (recognizing that a substantial or material change of circumstances must occur to warrant a modification of child support). “The party seeking the modification has the burden to show changed circumstances.” Upchurch, 367 S.C. at 26, 624 S.E.2d at 648. “However, changes within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the initial decree are not sufficient bases for the modification of a child support award.” Id. Moreover, “a reduction in child support cannot be based on a decrease in the noncustodial parent’s income absent a strong showing by the latter that he or she can no longer make the support payments required by the earlier order.” Townsend v. Townsend, 356 S.C. 70, 73-74, 587 S.E.2d 118, 119-20 (Ct. App. 2003).
Court ordered support (child or spousal) is one of the few exceptions to the ban on wage garnishments in South Carolina. Well over half the arrangements for child support in South Carolina use an Income Withholding Order, which is served on the paying spouse's employer. The child support is deducted from their paycheck and paid directly to the court, which in turn pays it directly to the recipient. The Income Withholding Order is a sensible option. The one downside of the order to the recipient is that it may take several weeks for the recipient to get the first payment. Once the first payment arrives, however, the process tends to flow pretty smoothly.
Is the Calculated Guideline Amount Mandatory?
There can be a deviation in support from the amount given by the calculator. While the child support guidelines are mandatory, the trial court may deviate from them where the parties have entered a fair, written agreement establishing a different amount of support and stating the reasons therefor, or upon a written finding on the record that the application of the guidelines would be manifestly unjust or inequitable.
The factors to be considered by the court in establishing the amount of support obligations are both parents' income, ability to pay, education, expenses, and assets and the facts and circumstances surrounding each case. Mitchell v. Mitchell, 283 S.C. 87, 320 S.E.2d 706 (1984). The court is to award support in an amount sufficient to provide for the needs of the children and to maintain the children at the standard of living they would have been provided but for the divorce. The award should be an amount the parent can pay and still meet his or her own needs. Smith v. Delaney, 286 S.C. 583, 334 S.E.2d 821 (Ct.App.1985).
Do I Have to Pay Child Support for College
Child support in South Carolina normally ends when the child reaches 18 and has graduated from high school. The parties can agree to pay for college expenses. Absent an agreement between the parties, the court may award child support for college expenses to ensure that children of a South Carolina divorce have the benefit of the college education they would have received had their parents remained together.
There is also South Carolina case law where the court awarded continuing support where a child is disabled. The Family Court Act allows that court to make orders running past a child's majority "where there are physical or mental disabilities of the child or other exceptional circumstances that warrant it, . . . " § 14-21-810(b)(4), Code of Laws of South Carolina (1976).
At What Age Does Child Support Stop
In South Carolina, each parent is responsible for supporting their child until the child's 18th birthday or until the age of 19 if the child is still in high school. Child support can be stopped earlier if the child is found by the court to be emancipated. Emancipated means that the child has moved out of the home and is now self supporting. Examples of emancipation are joining the military, marrying, or having a full time job. You will need to petition the court for an order to terminate child support, it does not happen automatically. Often the court will accept a sworn affidavit along with proof that the child has graduated from high school. Contact your local clerk of the South Carolina Family Court or your South Carolina family law attorney for the procedures in your jurisdiction.
South Carolina Law on Child Support
Generally, the family court determines gross income for purposes of calculating support based upon the financial declarations submitted by the parties. S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 114-4720(A)(6) (Supp. 2009).
"Gross income includes income from any source including salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, [and] rents (less allowable business expenses)...." S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 114-4720(A)(2) (Supp. 2009). Additionally, "[u]nreported cas[h] income should also be included if it can be identified." Id. When income reflected on the financial declaration is at issue, the family court may rely on suitable documentation to verify income, such as pay stubs, employer statements, receipts, or expenses covering at least one month. Regs. 114-4720(A)(6).
If you are not sure if you are the father, then you may want to perform a DNA test to determine paternity. If you are married to the mother at the time of conception, then there is a presumption that you are the father. You can perform a DAN test to verify paternity. Here is more information.
Military wages can be garnished to collect support. You must submit a form called an "Income Withholding Order" from your local child enforcement office. This form is then sent to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service at the address below in order to initiate the garnishment of military wages for child support. The Income Withholding Order is the only form that will authorize the military to withhold money and allocate it for child support. Even a divorce decree that orders a member of the military to make child support payments is not sufficient. If you have any questions about obtaining or sending the Income Withholding Order, you can contact DFAS at 1-888-332-7411. The form can be mailed or faxed to the following office:
Defense Finance and Accounting Service
PO Box 998002 Cleveland, Ohio 44199-8002
FAX: (216) 522-6960
A South Carolina Family Law Attorney can assist you if you have questions about your child support. The attorney can review the facts of your case and advise you on your rights under the law of South Carolina.
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