In the state of Missouri, child support is determined using what is commonly referred to as the “Form 14”. The Form 14 was designed by the Missouri legislatures to calculate child support using a complicated formula that takes into account income, insurance and daycare costs as well as certain other expenses. While it seems straightforward, individual circumstances can complicate even the most basic questions, including the first question: income.

Before the Form 14 calculation can work, it must have the income of the two parents. In basic terms, the form adds the two incomes together and using that total, figures out the amount of money the parties should be spending on their children. The amount of support a paying parent will pay is directly related to their percentage of the total income. If the income is calculated wrong, the entire support amount can be affected.

While the concept of income seems simple, it is more than just imputing a number from a paycheck, though in some circumstances, that is sufficient. In others, it is not. In cases where one parent is not employed, a court can “impute” an income to that party, meaning that the court can decide that while an individual is not actually receiving an income, one should be imputed, or assigned, to them. While minimum wage at 40 hours a week is a typical imputation, depending on work history, education or other factors, that amount can be higher or lower. It’s important to understand imputation as a paying parent who is unemployed may be ordered to pay an amount based on an income that is unreasonable for their current financial situation. A receiving parent may end up with a much lower amount of support due to an imputed income far too high for their current reality, potentially failing to take into account childcare obligations or years out of the workforce.

Government benefits can also complicate the income equation. While SSI benefits received directly by the children in question are never considered income under a Form 14 calculation, those same benefits may be included if received by the paying or receiving party. Those benefits are only included if they are going to benefit the party receiving the benefit. For example, a party receiving child support who also receives SSI payments will not have their SSI payments included in their income, effectively reducing the amount of child support they would receive. A paying parent cannot have their support reduced as a result of benefits awarded to the receiving party. On the other hand, a paying parent who receives SSI benefits may not have to include those payments as income as the receiving parent is not entitled to the benefit of those SSI payments and their effect on child support.

While the Form 14 appears on its face to be a simple fill-in-the blank form, even the most basic question of monthly income can have a complicated answer. The amount of child support paid or received is one of the most important aspects of a custody order. When hiring an attorney, it is important to hire someone who is aware of the potential complications while calculating support. The Thurman Law Firm has experienced family law attorneys ready to help ensure the appropriate amount of child support is ordered for any circumstance.

Linda M. Freeman