DC Child support obligations are correlated and connected with the award of child custody. They are inversely proportional. That is, increase in child physical custody reduces the child support obligations. Thus it is beneficial to litigate the child support and child custody matters simultaneously to both potentially reduce the child support obligations and also to increase the physical time spent with your child.
In the District, the award of child custody may take one of the following forms but it is always based on the best interest of the child criteria:
(i) sole legal custody; (ii) sole physical custody; (iii) joint legal custody; (iv) joint physical custody; or (v) other custody arrangement deemed to be in the best interest of the child.
In determining the best interest of the child, the court balances the following elements:
1) child’s preference toward each parent; 2) the wishes of the child’s parent as to the child’s custody; 3 ) interactions and interrelationship between the child and each parent, and other siblings; 4) the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community; 5) physical and emotional health of all involved; 6) any intrafamily (domestic violence) offenses; 7) the abilities of parents to work together with all child rearing decisions; 8 ) the parent’s willingness to share custody; 9) each parent’s participation in the child’s life; 10) the child’s social and school life; 11) geographic consideration such as proximity of each parental homes and other practical considerations affecting child’s residential schedule; 12) parental employment demands; 13) the age and number of children involved; 14) the compared sincerity of each parent’s request; 15) the parent’s ability to support a joint custody financially; 16) the impact on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; 17) the benefit to the parents. [DC Code § 16-914 (a)(1)(A)]
Where the award of custody entails joint physical custody, the child support statute dictates support calculation based on the portion of physical custody for each parent. Specifically, there is a presumption of shared physical custody under the child support guideline if the child spends 35% or more of the time during the year with each parent.
The presumption of shared physical custody significantly changes the child support calculation. Each parent is considered a custodial parent and the child support calculation more or less is dictated by the respective income analysis. The guideline however provides for credits to each parent based on other factors such as parent’s coverage of health insurance, payments toward school/daycare; credit for other minor children under the care of each parent, etc. [DC Code § 16-916.01 (q)(1)]
Thus it is imperative to vigorously litigate the child custody determination and present all supporting evidence and testimony to shift the balance in your favor as to the elements enumerate above and considered by the court in awarding child custody. That is for two prevailing reasons: 1) mainly to allow you additional parenting time with your child/physical custody; and 2) not unduly burden you with significant child support obligations stretching until the child’s 21st birthday based on a hypothetical statutorily enumerated percentage.