Calculating Child SupportTo calculate Michigan Child Support, you need a child support calculator, a knowledge of the Rules for calculating support, and the correct facts with which to make the support calculation.
Child Support CalculatorsYou either need someone with a calculator to run your support calculation for you, or you need your own support calculator. In some circumstances, the Friend of the Court will calculate support for you. When to use the Friend of the Court. It may make sense to have an attorney do the support calculation for you. When to use an attorney. You may purchase your own support calculator. Caution: The support calculators assume you know the Rules. If you don't know the Rules, you may enter the wrong information into the calculator, and wind up with the wrong result. Remember: garbage in, garbage out.
Child Support RulesIn setting child support, the Court must follow the Rules in the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, also called the Michigan Child Support Guidelines. The Rules control what information gets entered into the Child Support Calculator. If you don't know the Rules, you may not correctly count income, deductions and credits. Although child support is based on net (after tax) income, the Rules for calculating net income in the Guidelines are not always the same you would use to calculate your income tax.
Gather the Right InformationAn accurate support calculation depends on accurate and complete information (facts). There is a sort of Catch 22 in calculating child support. You need to know the Rules in order to know which facts are important, and you need to know all the relevant facts are in order to determine which Rules are important in your particular case. If you give the Friend of the Court or your attorney the wrong or incomplete information, or run your own calculation with the wrong information, you will not have an accurate child support calculation. Before you start, I recommend that you have, for each parent, at least the following information: current income, from a recent wage stub or income tax returns; cost of health insurance coverage, which is usually on the wage stub; cost of child care expenses, if any, and your current custody and parenting time order (to calculate how many nights each child spends with each parent per year). Other information will likely be required, depending on your specific situation. Review the Rules to look for rules which may apply to your specific situation.
A Word of CautionLearning the Rules and buying a support calculator for just one case is not a very efficient use of time or money. It is a lot easier to have a lawyer who already knows the law and has a child support calculator do it for you. On the other hand, while the lawyer knows the law, you are the one who knows the facts (though maybe not all of the important facts). Even with a laywer or using help from the Friend of the Court, calculating support is a collaborative process. Almost all errors in support calculation occur because the lawyer or Friend of the Court worker did not know some fact that would have and should have affected the support calculaiton. So, while "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." (Alexander Pope, 1709.), complete ignorance is worse. If you have a child support issue, by all means at least skim through the Guidelines so you have an idea of what facts might affect your calculation and make sure the person calculating support for you has those facts.
The "little knowledge is a dangerous thing" problem is this: It is easy to make mistakes without realizing you are doing so. When you act as your own lawyer, you assume the responsibility for following the rules of the Court -- even when you don't know what the rules are, don't understand them, or didn't even realize that there was a rule you were supposed to be following. You are also solely responsible for the results. When in doubt or you can afford to do so, let a lawyer help you. The odds of a mistake go way down.