A divorce court typically names one parent as the custodial parent who has primary responsibility for raising the child. The other parent usually must pay child support to the custodial parent until the child turns 21, the age of emancipation in Mississippi. While every state has a formula to calculate child support, Mississippi is rare in that it considers only the noncustodial parent’s income and not the custodial parent’s earnings. The court first calculates the noncustodial parent’s gross income. It then makes certain deductions to the gross income to arrive at the adjusted gross income and uses that figure to determine the proper amount of support.
To determine the noncustodial spouse’s gross income, the formula considers wages, salary, interest, dividends, alimony that the noncustodial spouse receives and benefits from retirement, disability, workers’ compensation and unemployment. If the judge determines that the noncustodial spouse is deliberately unemployed or underemployed to avoid paying child support, she can impute income to him by determining how much money the noncustodial parent could be earning and using that amount to compute child support.
Adjustments to Income
Once the noncustodial parent’s gross income is determined, the formula subtracts certain deductions required by Mississippi law, such as federal, state and local taxes, Social Security contributions and support of other children. After subtracting all allowable deductions from the noncustodial parent’s gross income, what’s left is the adjusted gross income, or AGI.
Applying the Formula
Mississippi's child support guidelines call for a parent with one child to pay 14 percent of his AGI in child support; 20 percent for two children; 22 percent for three children; 24 percent for four children; and 26 percent for five or more children. For a noncustodial parent whose annual AGI is $5,000 to $50,000, the law requires the judge to follow the guidelines unless the result would be unjust or inappropriate. For a noncustodial parent with an AGI less than $5,000 or more than $50,000, the judge has more freedom to decide whether to follow the guidelines. The court can also order the noncustodial parent to pay for other types of support, such as providing the child with health insurance or obtaining life insurance with the child as beneficiary.
Deviating From the Formula
Mississippi law provides a list of reasons for the court to deviate from the support formula. For example, the formula was designed for the traditional alternate-weekend visitation schedule. In a case of shared parenting – where the noncustodial parent spends more time and money caring for the child – the judge may reduce the amount of child support. On the other hand, the judge can increase child support if the noncustodial parent refuses to help raise the child. The judge can also deviate from the formula by considering factors such as the child’s extraordinary medical or educational expenses; alimony paid to the custodial parent; and the total assets of the parents and child.