New Child Support Guidelines

By: Bradley Coates
Special to the
Oahu Island News

Recently, the family court announced new child support guidelines.

For those who may not know, child support is no longer whatever amount the two parents decide to negotiate between themselves. Rather, the federal government requires the states to adopt uniform statewide child support guidelines and the use of these guidelines is mandatory in setting the monthly child support amount. These “guidelines” are more than mere guides. They are a complex formula which the court must follow. The formula is reviewed every four years by a committee of judges, actuaries, family law attorneys and others, and a new set of revised guidelines is promulgated.

Last month, the family court initially announced new guidelines to be effective November 1, 2003 (but then almost immediately rescinded them in order to correct a few technical errors). Even factoring in the time delays for these “technical hiccups,” it is likely that the family court will reissue (with minor adjustments) its revised child support guidelines sometime around the beginning of next year.

The basic components of child support are “primary support,” which is essentially a minimal “subsistence level” amount to live on, and then an additional component called the “standard of living allowance” (SOLA) which is premised on the concept that a child should share in any of each parent’s surplus financial means (money over and above the subsistence level). The critical factors in determining child support are the number of children and the gross incomes of both parents. The other variables in the formula are any day care costs for the children and any additional amount that it costs for a parent to have the children on his or her medical and dental insurance. If these variables are known, they can be plugged into a worksheet, which is then used to compute the precise amount of support that must be paid.

The new child support guidelines are not a radical departure from the old ones. The same formula, the same forms and virtually the same instructions will be used. The big change is an adjustment to the income tables, which compute net incomes and standard of living allowances. For example, if a parent’s gross income is $6,000 per month, that parent’s net income is $2,982 and her standard living allowance is $4,805. These numbers come right off the child support guidelines tables and do not necessarily reflect the actual net income of the parent, or any other unique personal circumstances.

Changes to the tables can have a tremendous effect on the ultimate amount of support to be paid. For example, consider a family in which there are two children. Father makes $6,000 per month and Mother makes $3,000 per month. Under the old guidelines, if mother was the custodial parent, she would receive $1,280 in child support. Under the new guidelines, she gets $1,210. If Father is the custodial parent and Mother is paying child support to him, she would pay $520 under the new guidelines, whereas she would have paid a larger amount of $600 under the old guidelines. Basically, the new guidelines seem to be set up so that most parents will pay $70 - $80 less under the new guidelines than the old ones.

Anyone who is paying or receiving child support should take a look at the new child support guidelines as soon as they are finally published by the court and consider going back to court for a revision of child support payment amounts if the use of the new guidelines would be beneficial. The assistance of a competent divorce attorney to help one understand these ever-changing and often tricky child support guidelines is strongly recommended.

Bradley A. Coates, J.D., has been a practicing divorce attorney in Honolulu for over 25 years. He has been selected as Honolulu’s best divorce lawyer and is the founder of Coates & Frey, Hawaii’s largest family law firm. Mr. Coates wrote an award-winning book, “Divorce with Decency: The Complete How-To Handbook and Survivor’s Guide to the Legal, Emotional, Economic, and Social Issues." This article contains only general information and readers should seek appropriate experts for each individual’s case and/or fact situation. Phone: 524-4854 or visit