Child support is determined in Virginia based on a guideline that is specified under Virginia law. However, if parties are working together and are willing to agree to a child support amount that deviates from that guideline, they are typically able to do so with the approval of the court. Child support cases can be emotional and complex, and when going through the process of Virginia child support determination, it is important to have the assistance of a compassionate child support attorney.
In a child support agreement, the parties who determine the parameters are generally going to be the parents. However, the determination of child support amounts in Virginia is ultimately in the hands of the judge. If two parents work together cooperatively and come up with an agreement about child support, at the end of the day, the judge has to approve that agreement for it to go into effect.
It is always the judge involved. In Virginia, there are never jury trials in family law-related matters, not even child support cases, so all considerations will be with a judge.
Factors of Determination
There is a guideline that the court is required to use for purposes of determination of child support in Virginia. However, the Virginia legislature has also set out in the law a number of factors that the court is required to do and will be considered by a judge when deciding whether or not to deviate from the child support guidelines.
These factors include the following:
- Actual monetary support that is provided for other family members
- Arrangements relating to the custody of the children
- Time sharing between the parents
- Child care costs
- Debts of either party
- Any special needs of the child particularly when it comes to the child having some sort of disability
- Income and financial resources of each parent
- Whether either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed
The court can also consider the standard of living that was established for the child during the marriage if the parties who are involved in the child support litigation were in fact married
Earning Capacity Considerations
The court will look at a variety of factors when determining child support in Virginia, including all income of each party before consideration of income taxes. In a situation where there is a question about whether a party is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court has the ability to receive testimony from a vocational expert. The vocational expert can look at the party’s experience, recent experience in work, their vocational background, any certifications that they may have, and the salaries that they received at a prior job.
In considering all those factors, the expert can formulate an opinion about the capacity of that person in terms of their earnings when looking at the existing job market and what is available. Experts will testify about these factors and the court will consider the testimony in deciding on what somebody’s earning capacity is.
The court is required to look at the party’s gross or pre-tax income. They do that for both parties. A party’s net income, in some ways, is determined based on things such as taxes and will be determined in part based on what kinds of taxes they have to pay. In addition to that, parties do sometimes have the ability to alter what their net income looks like with additional deductions as retirement contributions, and this is factored into the legislature’s decision to use gross income. This way, parties cannot adjust their numbers in order to impact their child support obligation.
Education and Employment Considerations
Education and professions will factor in as they relate to a party’s earning capacity when determining Virginia child support. For example, if one parent has a medical degree and has some experience working in a hospital and instead that person is stocking shelves at a local grocery store earning minimum wage, the court will consider the fact that this person has a medical degree and certification to practice medicine. Absent extraordinary circumstances, working at a local store stocking shelves will be determined to be underemployment and the court can consider imputing a higher level of income to that person and that would affect the overall determination outcome.