Determining child support is a critical step in the divorce process. In most cases in South Carolina, the amount of child support is determined through the use of guidelines developed by the Department of Social Services (DSS).
Under South Carolina law, DSS is responsible for developing guidelines that are used by courts during the process of determining child support awards. The award amount is based largely on the income of the parents. Income is defined as the gross income of the parent if he or she is fully employed. If the parent is unemployed or underemployed, the court determines the potential income of the parent. Gross income is considered income from any source, including salaries, commissions, pensions, interest earned, trust income, and Social Security benefits, among numerous others. However, it does not include Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Pursuant to the Family Court rules, financial declarations are required to verify income. If they are not available, the court can use other forms of documentation, including pay stubs, employer statements, or tax returns. Alternatively, the Employment Security Commission or the State Department of Revenue can verify household income.
If alimony was awarded, the court should consider that when making the child support determination. It should be treated as a deduction from the gross income of the paying spouse and an addition to the gross income of the receiving spouse. Other factors that impact the award amount include health insurance premiums paid by each parent for coverage of the child and child care costs that are work-related.
The total support obligation is divided between the parents in proportion to their income. DSS provides a tool to estimate the amount of child support that may be ordered. If using this tool, it is important to keep in mind that it is up to the judge to decide the support award. As a result of this, the amount actually awarded may differ from what the tool calculates.
An award amount can differ from the guidelines if it is shown that use of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate. Some of the factors the court considers in deciding whether deviation from the guidelines is appropriate include, but are not limited to:
Educational expenses of the child or parent;
Equitable (or fair) distribution of property between the parents; and
How many children the parents have (families with more than six children may lead to the court not using the guidelines).
The guidelines are intended for cases in which the gross annual income of the parents does not exceed $360,000. If the parents make more than that amount, the court should calculate the support award on a case-by-case basis.
Help During Divorce
If you are seeking a child support award or modification of it, it is important to speak with an experienced South Carolina family law attorney as soon as possible. At the Surasky Law Firm, LLC, we understand how difficult the process of divorce is and look forward to discussing with you how we can help.