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Setting Child Support: Easier Said Than Done

Despite relatively clear cut language, the laws governing child support in Illinois present nuanced issues that can have huge financial impacts for parents in court. As a result, careful research and planning, or a skilled litigator, is required when treading this ground.

In Illinois, a parent ordered to pay support is generally required to pay a set percentage of her or his “net income”. For instance, if parents have one child, Illinois law dictates that the party ordered to pay child support will pay 20% of her or his net income as child support; if the parties have two children, the percentage increases to 28%; and so on.

But, who will pay? Which parent will be obligated to pay support is an issue that often goes overlooked. Generally, the parent awarded custody of the child will receive child support from the parent who wasn’t—the “non-custodial parent”; but, not always. The law states that the court “may order either or both parents” to pay support. And, in a recent case that made it to the Illinois Supreme Court, In re the Marriage of Turk, a lower-court’s decision was upheld that ordered a father—who had sole custody of the parties’ children—to pay child support to the non-custodial mother.

Another issue where problems lurk hides in the meaning of the term “net income”. Under the child support statute, “net income” is defined as “the total of all income from all sources”, minus certain deductions. As such, a party’s income is more than just their earned income from employment. In fact, the phrase “all sources” has been interpreted by Illinois’s courts very broadly, and can even include income that is nonrecurring—such as a one-time lump-sum worker’s compensation award. Pension and IRA withdrawals; stock distributions; and recurring gifts from family or acquaintances can also count when determining an individual’s “net income”.

There’s more. What if a party claims that she or he “does not have any income”? Or, what if a party refuses to provide proof of income? What if a party claims that she or he makes less than she or he really does? How does one increase or decrease child support payments? These are all common—but complicated—issues that an experienced family law attorney knows how to overcome in court. If proceeding to court on a child support issue, it is best to do your homework first. The full language of the law governing child support can be found http://www.ilga.gov, on the Illinois General Assembly website.