Welcome to FreeDivorce.com.
Christina: This is Christina.
Ed: This is Ed. Today, are going to talk about the DissoMaster computer program that courts use to calculate the base amount of child support. This is a long and complicated explanation. We had to break it up into two videos. If you don’t want to spend the time learning how the DissoMaster program works, you can skip ahead to the video that explains how to determine the base child support amount without using the DissoMaster program. However, we strongly recommend that don’t skip ahead. Even if you don’t intend to do your own child support calculation, you should listen to this video and the next video about the DissoMaster program because we cover a lot of information that is extremely useful when it comes to understanding how the amount of base child support is determined.
Christina: Ed, if I want to run a base child support calculation using a computer software program such as DissoMaster, how do I get access to the program?
Ed: One option is to purchase the program. You can purchase the DissoMaster program, as well as similar programs, online. For example, the DissoMaster program can be purchased through iTunes. However, you may find that the iTunes version of Dissomaster can only be used on your iPad.
Christina: Ed, would you explain how the DissoMaster child support calculation program works?
Ed: If you run a child support calculation on DissoMaster, when you’re done, you can print out a copy of the calculation. The printout usually consists of the first page that contains the calculation, plus a bonus chart. We have a sample DissoMaster printout, with a bonus chart, in our Court Forms database. This is what the first page of the DissoMaster sample printout looks like. We will be referring to this page throughout this video. We will show you what the DissoMaster sample bonus chart looks like in the next video. Again, you can find both of these pages in our court forms database. The two pages are in one PDF entitled, “DissoMaster Support Calculation”.
Christina: What if I want to use a different child support calculation program besides DissoMaster?
Ed: Our sample child support guideline calculation was done using the DissoMaster software because that is the program most commonly used by the courts. If you run the calculation using different software, your support calculation printout will look somewhat different than the DissoMaster printout, but most of the child support programs that you can purchase have similar formats. How the printout looks is not important. What is important is that all the child support calculation programs produce very similar child support numbers. Of course, you only want to run child support programs that are designed for the State of California. Other states have very different rules when it comes to child support.
Christina: How do I run the Dissomaster program?
Ed: When you open up the DissoMaster program to run the child support calculation, you will note that there are lots of lines for entering data. Look at the left-hand side of our sample printout. The data entry lines are listed on the left side. They start with “Number of Children”, and include items such as “Wages and Salary”, “Other Taxable Income”, “Health Insurance”, etc. There are over 30 data entry lines. Just to the right of those data entry lines, you have a column for “Father” and a column for “Mother. You enter data for father or husband in the “Father” column. You enter data for mother or wife in the “Mother” column. For example, in our sample printout, we have entered $4,333 for Father’s “Wages and salary” and entered $1,500 for Mother’s “Wages and Salary”. After you enter all of your data, you then push the “enter” key on your keyboard and the program calculates the guideline amount of child support.
Christina: Do I have to enter data for each of the data entry lines?
Ed: No. Not all data lines will apply to your case. In a typical case, most of the data entry lines won’t apply. Each data entry will impact the final child support number. Although all data entries impact the calculation, there are a few entries that have the largest overall impact.
Christina: Which data entries are the most important?
Ed: The amount of income each person earns is certainly one of the most important factors in determining how much support is owed. The next most important factor is the custodial timeshare percentage. A father that has physical custody of his children 40% of the time will pay a lot less child support than a father that has physical custody of the children only 5% of the time. The reason for this is simple. If a father has physical custody of the children 40% of the time, he should be buying their food 40% of the time, providing housing 40% of the time; buying 40% of their clothing; etc. He should pay less support than a father that has the children only 5% of the time.
Again, all of the computer entries are important, but some of the other more important data entries include how much each party pays for health insurance; how much each party contributes to their 401(k) account; do they have other children from other marriages or relationships living with them; and what is their income tax filing status.
Christina: Do some of the data entries that you would expect to make the child support number go down, actually make it go up?
Ed: Yes. Some of the entries seem counter-intuitive. For example, if the father has a huge mortgage payment, you would think he would get a break and pay less child support. However, the fact is that the big mortgage payment will cause him to pay an even higher amount of child support. The support program sees the interest portion of the mortgage payment as a tax deduction and concludes that the father has more after-tax income and can therefore afford to pay a higher amount of child support.
The same counter-intuitive result happens in regard to 401(k) contributions. If a father is having a lot of money taken out of his paycheck and put into his 401(k) account, he may think he will owe less child support because he has less net income. However, the 401(k) contribution will cause him to owe even more child support than he would owe if he did not make the 401(k) contribution. As far as the computer program is concerned, the 401(k) contribution means the father pays less income tax and he can therefore afford to pay more child support. As a side note, some, 401(k) plans are for Roth 401(k) accounts for which the employee does not get a tax deduction. Contributions to a Roth 401(k) account will not impact the child support number.
Christina: Can you go over some of the entries on our sample DissoMaster program so I understand what I am looking at?
Ed: Sure. Take a look at the sample DissoMaster printout. We have used a fairly simple calculation as an example. We are assuming the parties have two children and the children reside primarily with Mother. You can see those entries in the first data entry line that reads, “Number of Children” and we have 2 in the Mother’s column. The second data entry line reads “% time with NCP”. That means, what percentage of time do the children spend with the non-custodial parent? We have entered 30% in Father’s column. That means the children spend 30% of their time in the Father’s physical custody and the rest of their time with their mother. The next data entry line is “Filing Status”. We have indicated that Father will be filing his tax returns as a single man and Mother will be filing as Head of Household. The “HH/MLA” in Mother’s column stands for Head of Household or Married, Living Apart. In the next data entry line, entitled, “# Federal Exemptions”, we indicate Father will have one tax exemption, himself, and Mother will have three tax exemptions, herself and the two children.
We are assuming Father earns $4,333 per month and Mother earns $1,500 per month. You will see the $4,333 number and the $1,500 number in the “Wages and Salary” data entry line. These salary numbers are the gross amounts of each party’s salary, not the net after-tax amounts of their earnings. Always use the gross, before tax, amounts for purposes of calculating child support. We are further assuming that Father pays $300 per month for health insurance. You will see the $300 entry in Father’s column about two-thirds of the way down for the data entry line that reads, “Health Insurance”. So, those are all of the entries we have made for purposes of this calculation. We made those data entries and then pushed the “enter” button on our computer keyboard and the program then calculated the child support number.
Christina: Where is the child support number on this sample printout?
Ed: The base child support numbers, which again, is called the “guideline” child support numbers appear in the center of the printout. We have highlighted the child support and spousal support numbers in yellow. The line that reads, “CS Payor Father” tells you that Father is the parent paying the child support. “Basic CS” in the amount of $863 is the base or “guideline” child support amount per month that Father would owe Mother.
Christina: I see the line that reads, “Basic CS” and the $863 number, but I also see, just below that, a line that reads, “Presumed Per Kid”, what is that about?
Ed: If you have more than one child, the guideline child support numbers are allocated between the children, with the youngest child receiving more child support than the oldest child. Looking at our sample DissoMaster printout, you can see that the child support is allocated $305 to “Child 1” (which is the oldest child) and $558 to “Child 2” (which is the youngest child). Again, we have highlighted these numbers. Those two numbers add up to the $863 total child support. You want the child support allocated in this fashion, not split equally between the children.
Christina: Why are the $863 in total child support allocated $305 to the oldest child and $558 to the youngest child?
Ed: The reason the support program allocates more support for younger children has to do with child support ending when the oldest child turns 18 years old and “drops off the dole”. If a couple has only one child, a fair amount of support maybe $500 per month for that one child. The child support number can be fairly high because the parent is paying support for only one child. If that same couple has 5 kids, $500 per month per child may be way more than the supporting parent can afford to pay. The amount owed per child decreases as the number of children increases. It costs less per child to raise children when you have a group of children.
Rather than have a support order that equally allocates the total amount of child support between each child, the program figures out how much should be paid for the total number of children and then allocates the amount so that as each child turns 18 and drops off, the amount of child support owed for the remaining children is still fair. This approach eliminates the need for the custodial parent to go back to court for a new child support order each time an older child turns 18 years old.
Christina: In the sample calculation, you list Father’s salary as $4,333 per month. My husband has a base salary, but then he also gets extra pay because he frequently works a lot of overtime, and at least once per year, he gets a big bonus. How does that extra income factor into the child support calculation?
Ed: We will cover that issue in the next video.