Navigating Child Support and Custody in High-Income Divorces

By Michael DiFalco

Divorce rates fall as income increases. The rates level off at about $200,000 in combined income before rising again at about $600,000 in combined income.

However, having a high income does not guarantee that your marriage will succeed. Some issues happen universally, regardless of income. And every parent going through divorce has concerns about fair treatment on issues of child custody and support.

How Income Affects Child Custody and Support

High-income divorces typically fall into two situations. Sometimes, spouses who combine for a high income still have high individual incomes after a divorce. In other cases, one spouse earns a higher income than the other.

For the most part, the fact that the parents earn high incomes should have little effect on child custody and support determinations. However, there are some situations where an income disparity might come into play.

Child Custody

You might think the higher-income parent has an advantage over the lower-income parent in custody determinations. This is not necessarily true. Courts in New York presume that both parents have a right to involvement and participation in the child’s life, regardless of income. Instead, the court will consider the child’s best interests using factors such as:

  • Which parent is the primary caregiver
  • Each parent’s skills and ability to address any special needs
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • Whether either parent has committed domestic abuse
  • Work schedules and child care plans of the parents
  • The child’s preferences, depending on their age
  • Any sibling or familial relationships
  • Each parent’s ability to cooperate with the other

Child Support

Child support passes from the non-custodial parent to the custodial one. Child support serves two purposes. First, it allocates the financial support for the child between the parents according to each parent’s share of their combined income. 

For example, suppose the combined income for a couple is $100,000, with one parent contributing $40,000 and the other contributing $60,000. In this case, the cost of raising the child should be split 40/60 between the parents. But the higher income parent would likely also have to pay child support to the other parent as part of that calculation.

Second, it ensures the child can maintain the same living standard after the divorce as before the divorce. It does this by squaring up each parent’s contribution to the child’s financial needs so both parents have money to spend on the child.

Worksheets to Determine Child Support

New York uses child support worksheets to determine the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation. However, these worksheets do not work for high-income parents. 

The law first requires that the court consider the child support due on the first $183,000 of combined income. If the parents earn more than this, the court must use those two underlying principles to award a fair amount of additional support if necessary to meet the needs of the children. 

For example, suppose one parent earns $400,000 and the other earns $600,000. When you only look at the child support due for the first $183,000, the child receives far less support than they are accustomed to. 

When to Adjust These Calculations

The court would need to adjust the calculations to ensure the child can maintain the same living standard and that the amount is divided fairly between the parents. That might mean that the court awards child support on combined income up to $250,000-350,000 out of the total income of $1,000,000.

Addressing Child Custody and Support In Your Divorce

Some steps you can take to navigate these issues include:

  • Documenting all sources of income for you and your spouse
  • Seeking maintenance with child support if you earn less than your spouse
  • Focusing on the “best interests” factors rather than income to argue for custody

If you are a non-custodial parent, child support is almost inevitable. Accept it, and remember that child support is for your child. Both parents should also remain open to negotiating a fair amount based on their child’s needs and their resources.

Contact an Experienced Divorce Attorney Today

To discuss your child custody and support situation, contact Aiello & DiFalco, a family law firm in Garden City, NY.

About the Author
I am a partner at Aiello & DiFalco LLP, and my priority for my clients is to guide them through an arduous court case to provide them with the opportunity to write the next chapter in their life. I tailor my approach to each client’s priorities and positions, and to the extent that matters can be predicted, I will always provide a realistic perspective of how the law could be applied to the particular facts and circumstances of a case. Since I thrive on helping people and solving problems, I bring an optimistic and positive approach to practicing in a very difficult area of law. With more than a decade of experience handling hundreds of cases, I have the ability to get results on the issues my clients view as priorities. When cases or certain issues cannot be settled, I have a solid record of success at trials, hearings, and on appeals. Feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation, I am always available to help.