Questions About Child Support in South Carolina

By Wayne Thomas

When parents divorce, determining child support can feel like solving a math problem. South Carolina, like other states, uses a specific formula for calculating the amount that the parent with physical custody of the child, known as the custodial parent, should receive. The other parent, referred to as the non-custodial parent, may then request certain adjustments to the base figure. Further, either parent may pursue a modification of an existing order if the circumstances change after a child support order is issued.

Determining a Support Amount

South Carolina uses the income shares formula to calculate child support. This formula is based on the concept that a child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he would have received if the parents lived together. A basic child support obligation is determined based on the combined incomes of the parents, using a table provided by the state. The amounts in the table are derived from economic data on average child-rearing expenses and current cost of living estimates. The non-custodial parent is responsible to pay a proportion of the table figure that mirrors the ratio of his individual income to the total household income. For instance, the non-custodial parent would need to pay two-thirds of the support amount if his income is $60,000 and the custodial parent's income is $30,000.

Adjustments to the Support Amount Are Possible

After the court calculates the initial support amount, either parent may request an adjustment. Adjustments are used to account for unusually high expenses, such as medical costs or private schooling. Courts may also take into account the age of the child, existing spousal support orders, and each spouse's consumer debts. Further, if the parent ordered to pay support has at least 30 percent of the overnights with the child under a custody order, it is considered a shared custody arrangement and the court has discretion to reduce the obligation to account for any support provided directly by that parent during overnight visitation.

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Duration of Support

In South Carolina, a support order generally stays in effect until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, the order will cease earlier if the child gets married or becomes self-supporting. In addition, an order may be extended into adulthood if the child has a disability.

Awarding College Expenses

State law does not require the non-custodial parent to pay for college expenses or tuition, absent a specific agreement between the parents. However, in cases where a judge concludes that a child would greatly benefit from higher education such as if he particularly has good grades -- and the non-custodial parent has an ability to pay for college -- the court has the option of awarding post-secondary support.

Modifications to an Existing Support Order

Either party may request an increase or decrease to an existing order if circumstances change. One basis for a modification is if a parent's finances changes such as through an involuntary loss of employment, an increase in earning potential, or if one parent remarries. Another basis for modification is if the child's needs change such as if he becomes disabled or is recovering from an illness.

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Reasons to Deviate From California Guidelines for Child Support

Divorce does not relieve either parent of the obligation to financially support their children. In California, state guidelines are used to calculate a support amount according to the incomes of both parents. However, in some cases, the amount that a parent is ordered to pay is found to be inappropriately high or low. Courts have the discretion to deviate from the support formula in limited circumstances when this happens.

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