Child support awards are governed by Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration, which was promulgated by the Supreme Court of Alabama. Rule 32 provides the method and standards for calculating child support and employs several forms to be used by the Court and both parties to calculate child support.
Both parties in a child support case must complete a Statement of Income Affidavit (known as Form CS-41). This form requires parties to list all forms of GROSS income they receive. It is important to remember that under Rule 32, “income” is a broad term that can include more than what the Internal Revenue Service defines as “taxable.” Social Security benefits, car and food allowances, and housing benefits from employers can also be part of the “gross income” used in a child support calculation. See, Stinson v. Stinson, 729 So.2d 864 (Ala.Civ.App.1998) (court included car/fuel allowance from employer as income); See also, Norman v. Norman, 50 So.3d 1107 (Ala.Civ.App.2010) (court included military housing allowance as income). The parties must also list the monthly costs that they pay (if any) for childcare and health insurance for the minor children in the case.
The figures from both parties’ CS-41 forms are then used to fill out the Child Support Guidelines Form CS-42. The CS-42 is a fill in the bank formula used to calculate child support awards. The calculation begins with each party’s monthly gross income. Then, if either party is already paying child support in another case, that monthly amount is deducted from their gross monthly income. Next, both parties’ incomes are added together to find the combined gross monthly income. Each party’s percentage share of the gross monthly income is also entered (for instance, if the Father makes $3,000.00 and the Mother makes $1,000.00, the Father would have a 75% share and the Mother a 25% share. The parties’ combined gross monthly income has a “Standard Basic Obligation” that can be found in a schedule that is part of Rule 32. That basic obligation is entered into the CS-42 and is added to monthly child care costs (which are limited to a maximum level based on the type of child care) and the monthly health insurance premium paid to cover the children. This figure used to be the full premium paid for family coverage, but is now limited under Rule 32, to the pro rata share of the monthly premium for the number of children covered under the child support Order. For example, if the total premium was $400 per month, but that covered three other people besides the child, then only 1/4 of the monthly premium would be part of the child support calculation. Once those figures are added together, the total is then multiplied by the non-custodial parent’s percentage of the combined gross monthly income. If the non-custodial parent pays the health insurance premium, that amount (the same pro rata share referenced above) is then deducted. The result is the monthly child support award that is presumed to be used.
Under certain circumstances, a court may deviate from the presumed award under the Rule 32 formula just outlined. “When the court determines that the application of the guidelines would be manifestly unjust or inequitable and then deviates from those guidelines in setting a support obligation, the court must make the findings required by Rule 32(A)(ii), Ala. R. Jud. Admin. M.S.H. v. C.A.H., 829 So.2d 164, 169 (Ala.Civ.App.2002) (citing Thomas v. Norman, 766 So.2d 857, 859 (Ala.Civ.App.2000)). Rule 32(A), Ala. R. Jud. Admin., allows the trial court to deviate from the guidelines so long as the deviation is based on “evidence presented in court” contained in a “written finding on the record.” In other words, the subsection requires the trial court to state a reason justifying its deviation from the guidelines.” DeYoung v. DeYoung, 853 So. 2d 967, 970 (Ala.Civ.App.2002). In circumstances where the parties exercise “shared physical custody or visitation rights providing for periods of physical custody or care of children by the obligor parent substantially in excess of those customarily approved or ordered by the court” may constitute a “reason for deviating from the guidelines,” the rule further notes that “[t]he existence of one or more of the reasons enumerated in this section does not require the court to deviate from the guidelines.” Boatfield v. Clough, 895 So. 2d 354, 356 (Ala.Civ.App.2004). In other words, true joint/shared custody may (and often does) result in a deviation from the Rule 32 formula, but that such is not guaranteed. In the vast majority of cases, the Rule 32 formula is applied without a deviation.