At our law firm, we represent Nebraska parents in legal matters related to child support. For example, child support must be addressed in divorces with children as well as in disputes between unmarried parents. We also represent parents requesting the modification of previous child support orders. These modifications become necessary upon a change of circumstances — be it a change of income, parenting time or the birth of subsequent children.
Like many other states, Nebraska bases its system of child support on guidelines, which consider the income of each parent and the number of children among other factors to determine monthly child support according to a formula. The Nebraska Child Support Guidelines, sometimes called the NCSG, are contained in the state court rules and were developed by an economist from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
The guidelines are based on the moral principle that parents share equally in the duty to support their children according to each’s financial ability and upon the goal of having the “away parent” or “noncustodial parent” provide the support he or she would have had they remained in the home. The guidelines apply to the determination of both temporary and permanent support orders.
Rebuttable presumption of appropriate child support
The child support amount derived from the guidelines creates a “rebuttable presumption,” meaning it is the amount assumed appropriate unless “sufficient evidence” rebuts that presumption. Any deviation must be approved by the Court and found to be in the best interests of the child.
If divorcing parents negotiate a settlement agreement, the judge must review the support amount considering whether it complies with the guidelines. For the judge to approve an amount that deviates from the guidelines, he or she must make specific findings justifying the exception.
Allowable reasons for guideline deviations
Whether pursuant to a parental agreement or judicial determination, deviations from guideline amounts must fall within certain specific circumstances:
- Parent’s or child’s “extraordinary medical costs”
- “Special needs” of a child with a disability
- Combined parental net monthly income of more than $15,000
- The child is a juvenile in foster care
- Guideline amount would be “unjust or inappropriate”
Income amount a common dispute
The NCSG are based largely on parental income, so it is not surprising that disputes about the calculation of parental “income” are frequent, especially when a parent’s income fluctuates or he or she is self-employed. Guideline Worksheet 1 provides that when a parent’s income fluctuates, the income for the past three years may be averaged for use in the guidelines.
In Gress v. Gress, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected a father’s argument that the trial court should have used an eight-year average instead because he had had two of his best years of farming income in the past three and the average would be higher than normal if those three years were used. The Supreme Court surveyed other states that had faced the question of how many years of income to average, in circumstances similar to Mr. Gress and concluded that a three-year period is the most reasonable (and common) among the jurisdictions. Even though courts had averaged more than three years in two other Nebraska cases, the Supreme Court in Gress said that it was not an abuse of discretion or unjust to use only three years.
This post introduces a complex subject that we will revisit in upcoming posts.