When child support is calculated in accord with the guidelines of Minnesota statutes, both parents’ incomes are considered. The statute provides a table for the basic amount of support that children need, based upon the combined income of the child’s two parents.
When the parents have equal, or nearly equal, parenting time, the amount of child support is less, often substantially less, than when the child resides primarily with one parent. The reason for the lesser amount is the expectation that both parents will contribute to the child’s basic needs on a day-to-day basis. The higher earning parent pays a small sum of basic support to the lower earning parent, and both parents contribute to the child’s expenses over time. If the parents have similar incomes then there is little or no child support changing hands.
When the child resides primarily with one parent, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the other parent and is not expected to contribute to normal living expenses for the child, other than the child’s food and entertainment expenses during that parent’s parenting time. The parents may need to reach agreement about substantial expenses such as summer camps, school trips, or big purchases, if such expenses cannot be paid by the custodial parent from that parent’s income and the other parent’s child support payments.
If the statutory calculation of child support creates a troublesome dispute for parents, they may be able to agree to an alternative that avoids any need for child support. For some separated couples, a better resolution can be devised by agreeing on the child’s basic expenses, and determining a fair division of those expenses, whether by category, by relative percentages, or by creating a schedule for taking turns shouldering that burden. One parent may be responsible for clothing, school lunches, and school activity fees; and the other parent is made responsible for music lessons, sport registration and equipment. Or the parents can maintain a joint bank account for children’s expenses, and make deposits in accord with their share of the responsibility (which may or may not be based upon income). Or a higher earning parent can cover the children’s expenses for the first two months or each quarter, and the lower earning parent can cover the last month of each quarter.
If the parties agree on what expenses the children incur that are tangible, then the intangible expenses that parents incur, such as housing that accommodates the child, and the additional food and utilities that a child brings, can be absorbed by each parent.