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Calculation of Alimony and Child Support

I've looked at the statutes, have done the CS worksheet, and have used a few online CS and Alimony calculators, but I'm still not sure I've got it. If we assume that my gross income is $200K and hers is $18K and there are 2 kids, then according to the CS calculations, the child support would be approximately $819/wk or $3300/mo (she currently carries the health/dental).

As I understand it, in calculating alimony, we exclude gross income used to determine child support -- which, apparently, means that we exclude the $200K, which means that alimony = $0.

I understand that the court may characterize all or part of that presumptive child support as alimony. But if I've got that right, that would mean the court could award up to $3300/mo as alimony (meaning $0 as CS), but no more.

If we take CS out of the equation (pretend no kids), then the alimony statute says alimony "should generally not exceed the recipient’s need or 30 to 35 per cent of the difference between the parties’ gross incomes." If we assume 35%, then monthly alimony would be approximately $5308.

Assuming all that's right, then:
1) Is the maximum CS+Alimony: (a)$3300/mo; (b)$5308/mo; or (c) $8608/mo? It seems like it would be (a) because child support is mandatory and gross income used to calculate CS is excluded from the alimony calculation. The court might characterize the CS as alimony, but it can't go higher than (a) without double-dipping into the income used to calculate CS. I can see how it might be (b), if child support is simply considered to be part of the calculated alimony amount rather than calculating CS separately first--in other words, since the calculated alimony > the calculated CS, the court could award the alimony amount and "include" the CS in there. But the online alimony calculator I found, and that said that it factored in the income used to calculate CS, said that the maximum alimony was "child support only." (I don't see how it could be (c) because that would require considering the same income to calculate both CS and Alimony.)

2) Does "should generally not exceed the recipient's need or 30-35% of the difference in gross incomes" mean should not exceed the greater of those, or that it should not exceed the lesser of them? On one hand it seems like it should be "the greater of" because 30-35% of the difference may not be sufficient to meet the recipient's needs. But on the other hand, the recipient's needs might be significantly higher than 30-35% of the difference in income based on lifestyle during the marriage. If it is "the greater of," then that means that the court could order-just as an example-$10K/mo in alimony and include the CS within that. But that would mean that the alimony would be about 60% of the payor's gross income, which seems excessive.

I'm sorry for the length of the question and I greatly appreciate your insights!

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Submitted Fri, 08/01/2014 - 14:03

Great question! The courts are still grappling with the intersection of the child support guidelines and the new alimony law -- particularly in circumstances such as yours where one parent earns almost 100% of the family's income. Many judges follow what appears to be the precise letter of the law -- that is, every dollar used to calculate child support cannot be used to calculate alimony. From there, judges still differ on what the end result should be. Some judges say that where the total income of the parents is below $250k, and there is a child support order, then there is *no* alimony. So some judges will say it's your option "a". Others recognize that there are tax advantages to the family as a whole by calling some of the support alimony and some child support. As you no doubt know, child support is tax neutral while alimony is tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the recipient. And so, the other popular result is option "d" (one you haven't listed). By way of example, option "d" could mean $100,000 of your salary is used to calculate child support and the other $100,000 is used to calculate alimony, but no double-dipping. The other option that some judges have tried but seem to be moving away from is an option "e": that is, they will first calculate alimony, and with the newly allocated numbers, they will recalculate child support. It will never be your option "c". Also note, that a straightforward calculation of child support is based on the guidelines' assumption that the parenting time is divided 2/3 and 1/3. The calculation changes if the parenting time is different.

The alimony question is easiest to answer if you assume there are no minor children. That being the case, a very common result is using 32-33% of the difference in income -- the word "maximum" is being overlooked and 30-35% appears to now be viewed as the normal range. Using 32-33% is "splitting the baby" so to speak. (This is of course for general term alimony, there are 3 other kinds...)

I handle divorce mediations. And so figuring out the financial aspects to a divorce in that context involves first figuring out the family's existing budget and projected budget. That lays the groundwork for determining what resources the family has and what they need. For determining support, we then look to the range of numbers that a court may order. In your case, if the range appears to be around $3300/mo - $5300/mo, we then determine what makes the most sense based on tax advantages and what makes sense for the family based on need & ability.

If you are amicable with your wife, I highly suggest you mediate your divorce. It is far less costly and emotionally burdensome than traditional litigation and importantly, the two of you chose the terms of your divorce and not a judge. (And not just on finances!) At this point, I would suggest you reach out to some family law litigators and mediators to get an idea of your rights and obligations and the manners in which you can get a divorce. I offer free initial consultations, and I know most attorneys in MA do as well.

Best of luck,

Meredith L. Lawrence Esq.

Hello. I am in the process of figure out financial factors in my divorce.

We have been married for 13 years, which I understand, if any alimony to be awarded, will be 70% of the 13 years.

We both work but I make more than him. We have two young children (age 4 and 7). We have agreed to let me have 100% physical custody of both kids and I will be responsible for expenses for the kids, daycare, health insurance and all health cost. From some online calculator it seems that he need to pay me some child support.

Now he want alimony. I am just curious how alimony is calculated in our case. Our combined income is lower than 250K for sure. Nether of us have any income other than salary. I read that the same gross income used to calculate child support can not be used for alimony calculation. What does that mean? Does that mean he is not entitled to any alimony?

Also a couple factors that I am not sure if matter here at all:
1. During the marriage I have always been working full time. He is always full time student or working full time. Nobody take time off for the family.

2. He has bipolar disorder, which is a biological disorder. He was on disability when I first met him. After we get together he managed to finish college and get steady employment.

Please help me to understand if he is entitled the alimony and if he does how to calculate.


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