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Illinois child support: the basics

Whether you might be paying child support or receiving it on behalf of your child, there are certain basics facts you need to know about child support in Illinois. I’ve put together this overview of the Illinois law on child support as reflected in Section 505 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (the “IMDMA”)(750 ILCS 5/505). 

Illinois’ statutory child support guidelines

In Illinois, the amount of child support a parent pays follows a statutory scheme. In Illinois, the “non-residential” parent pays child support to the “residential parent” (the parent who lives at the child’s official residence. Please be aware, whether or not the parents have joint or sole legal custody of the children has no bearing on child support.

Illinois’ child is paid as a percentage of net income:  

  • one child: 20% of net income
  • two: 28% of net income
  • three children: 32% of net income
  • four children: 40% of net income
  • five children: 45% of net income
  • six or more children: 50% of net income

Deviating from child support guidelines

In most cases, the court will simply apply the statutory percentage to the payor’s net income. However, the court may deviate from the guidelines per 750 ILCS 5/505(a)(2).

In deciding whether to deviate from the guidelines, the court considers the child’s “best interest” in light of relevant factors including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. the financial resources and needs of the child;
  2. the financial resources and needs of the custodial parent;
  3.  the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved;
  4. the physical and emotional condition of the child, and his educational needs; and
  5. the financial resources and needs of the non?custodial parent.

If the court does deviate from the statutory percentage guidelines, its order “shall state the amount of support that would have been required under the guidelines, if determinable. . . and the reason or reasons for the variance from the guidelines.”

Further, if a payor parent’s annual net income is more than several hundred thousand dollars, it is somewhat likely that there will be downward deviation in the percentage of net income paid as child support. However, the amount of deviation, if any, is the judge’s discretion; further, various Illinois counties tend to deviate at different levels of income.

For what is child support to be used?

Child support is for children’s various expenses, including food, clothing, housing, transportation, and activities. Please note, often the parent paying child support must contribute the the child’s medical care and daycare in addition to custodial parent is often required to contribute additional funds for daycare, extracurricular activities, private school expenses and medical expenses not covered by insurance.

While the purpose of child support is to support a child, there are no guarantees that the parent who receives the child support will actually spend 100% of the funds on the child. In other words, unless the parents agree themselves, the court will not order the child support payee (who receives the child support) to demonstrate, or account for, how the money is being spent. This can be a source of frustration for the payor, but an opportunity to demonstrate goodwill for the payee. While an accounting down to the penny may not be practical, if the child support payee were to give the payor a rough estimate of how the money is being spent, the effort might be appreciated and result in less acrimony. The parent receiving child support should place himself or herself in the place of  the parent obligated to pay the support; doing so might shed some light on how it might feel to be obligated to pay child support without having any control over how the money is spent.

Modifying child support – increase or decreasing child support payments

Child support is always modifiable. To modify child support, either the payor or payee may file a petition to modify support.

The following are possible reasons the court could modify support:

  • a change in the child’s needs
  • a change in the payor’s income
  • many other reasons

One common problem in the payment of child support is the payor who has lost a job or had a decrease in salary. For instance, suppose Joe Dad is paying $300 per month in child support. Then, he loses his job. He calls Jill Mom, and they agree that since he lost his job it’s fine if he only pays $150 in child support; but they don’t get a court order reflecting their agreed decrease in child support. So, for four months Joe Dad pays $150 per month in child support, then  Jill Mom has a change in heart and thinks Joe Dad should have been paying $300 per month all along. The court will  force Joe Dad to pay the $600 “arrearage” ($150 per month shortfall, for four months). The moral of the story is that if the payor of child support believes a decrease in support is in order, the obligation to pay support remains what it was until a court order says differently.

Tax implications of child support

Child support in itself is not tax deductible by the payor; it is included in the payor’s taxable income. Likewise, child support is not taxable as income to the payee.

However, if the child support payor is also paying spousal maintenance (aka alimony), the IRS has provided a way for the combined child support and alimony payment to be classified as “unallocated support” such that the payments are deductible by the payor and taxed as income to the payee. Depending upon the tax brackets of the parties involved, and the negotiation between the parties, the use of unallocated support  can result in greater savings for both parties.

Penalties for not paying child support

There can be severe penalties for not paying child support, or for paying less than was ordered. At the most extreme, there is jail. Other penalties include financial penalties, intercepting tax refunds, restrictions on business licenses, revoking drivers licenses and passports, and other penalties. Therefore, if you having problems paying you child support, you should resolve the situation as soon as possible.

Problems with the child support system

There are numerous problems with the child support system in Illinois. Some of them are:

  • The child support payor has no power to account for how the child support is being spent; this invites abuse. For example, so long as a child support payee is not neglecting a child, he or she could potentially spend a portion of the child support gambling, while the child support payee would be virtually powerless to prevent it.
  • Some child support payors can hide income, and child support payees have a heard time collecting the appropriate amount.
  • The child support payee might get remarried, and in doing so, drastically improve the lifestyle of the payee and the child for whom the payor is paying support. In such a situation, the quality of the life of the payee might be much higher than the quality of life for the payor; this is not ideal in terms of the child enjoying a similar lifestyles with both parents.

It is important to address child support issues as quickly as possible. Child support issues can become complicated because of the financial aspects to dealing with such cases.

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About the author: Contact Illinois family law attorney David Wolkowitz at 312-554-5433 or online. He is a family law and divorce attorney serving Chicago and the Counties of Cook, Champaign, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will. Areas of practice include divorce, uncontested divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal maintenance, child support, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (the “UCCJEA”).