Currently, Illinois uses a “percentage of income” formula to calculate a parent’s child support obligation to the custodial parent. This formula calculates child support by multiplying the noncustodial parent’s net income by a certain percentage to determine that parent’s guideline child support obligation. The guideline percentage varies depending on the number of children between the parties. For one child, guideline support is 20% of the noncustodial parent’s net income. For two children, it’s 28%. For three, it’s 32%, and so on. This way of calculating a noncustodial parent’s child support obligation has been in effect since the 1980’s and some argue it is due for makeover.
For one, opponents of Illinois’ current calculation method argue that it fails to automatically take into account the income of the custodial parent. Rather, in Illinois, the court will determine strictly by looking at the noncustodial parent’s income in the overwhelming majority of cases. In order for a court to consider the custodial parent’s income, the noncustodial parent would have to specifically request that the court deviate from statutory guidelines. Deviation often requires negotiation and litigation. In the end, the court will determine how much to deviate from guidelines based upon what the judge believes to be fair. As a result, outcomes may vary from case to case and courtroom to courtroom.
Take, for example, the recently-decided case of the Marriage of Turk. In that case, the custodial father made over $150,000 per year, while the noncustodial mother earned less than $10,000 per year. As a result, the court actually ordered the custodial parent to pay child support to the noncustodial parent, so that she could provide for the children when they were visiting with her. While the Supreme Court eventually decided that the current child support law does permit such an outcome, the parties had to litigate the case all the way up to the Supreme Court over a period of several years to obtain that result. Worse, the Supreme Court then remanded the case for further evidentiary hearings to determine what each parent’s child support obligation should be. Most people simply can’t afford that sort of court battle, financially or emotionally.