This page explains what child support is, when it is established and how it is calculated.
Establishing child support may be part of a case for divorce, separate maintenance, temporary separation, annulment, parentage or child welfare. Depending on the type of case, a support order may be entered by a district court or a juvenile court. The Utah Office of Recovery Services (ORS) may issue administrative orders concerning child support outside of court.
Parents have a legal duty to support their minor children. Unless a minor is emancipated, child support continues until the child is 18 or has completed high school, whichever is later. Child support is for the use and benefit of the child. In some cases, the court may order child support to continue after age 18 for a disabled child who remains a dependent.
Income and Overnights
Child support is calculated using the gross monthly income of both parents and the number of overnights the child spends in each household.
Parents are required to provide the court with proof that their current income matches the income used in the support calculator: year-to-date pay stubs or employer statements and complete copies of tax returns from at least the most recent year.
If this proof is not reasonably available, parties can file a Declaration of Other Party's Earnings explaining their income. The Declaration form is available in the Forms section below.
Even if the parent is not working, income may be imputed to that parent. This means the court will assume a parent is capable of earning a certain amount of money each month. Imputed income is usually based on working a 40-hour work week. The amount imputed will depend on various factors including the parent's work history and employment opportunities. If a parent has no recent work history or a parent's occupation is unknown, that parent may be imputed an income at the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour work week.
For the court to accept that a party is not earning any income, the court is required to evaluate the party's employment potential and probable earnings based on work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for people of similar backgrounds in the community.
However, income will not be imputed if any of the following conditions exist and the condition is not of a temporary nature:
- the reasonable costs of child care for the parents' minor children approach or equal the amount of income the custodial parent can earn;
- a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn minimum wage;
- a parent is engaged in career or occupational training to establish basic job skills; or
- unusual emotional or physical needs of a child require the custodial parent's presence in the home.
Overnights and Physical Custody
The number of overnights a child spends in each parent's home will also affect child support. There are three basic possibilities:
- The child spends at least 111 nights a year in the home of each parent. This is called joint physical custody.
- The child spends over 225 nights a year in the home of one parent. This is called sole physical custody.
- There are multiple children and some live with one parent and some live with the other parent. This is called split custody.
For more information see our page on Custody.
Utah law establishes Child Support Guidelines to calculate a parent's child support obligation. The guidelines have three components:
- Base child support
- Medical care
- Child care expenses
A table determines the total support obligation for the children, which is shared by the parents according to their incomes. The non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent. Child support is calculated by a formula established by Utah Code Section 78B-12-301.
If you are preparing papers for a divorce, custody or parentage case, the Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP) will calculate child support for you and prepare Child Support Worksheets. For other case types you can use the Child Support Calculator or the fill-in-the-blank forms. Be sure to allow pop-ups in your web browser for both of these tools.
If a health insurance policy is reasonably available, the cost of the minor children's portion of the premium is shared equally by the parents, as is the cost of any non-insured medical expenses, including deductibles and co-payments.
Parents are also required to share work-related child-care expenses equally.
A child support order can establish which parent can claim the child as a dependent for federal and state income tax purposes. Unless the parties agree who can claim the tax exemption, the court will award the exemption. The court will consider as the primary factor the relative contribution of each parent to the cost of raising the child, and among other factors, the relative tax benefit to each parent. The court may not award an exemption to a parent unless the award will result in a tax benefit to that parent. The court may not award an exemption to the non-custodial parent if that parent is not current in their child support payments.
If both parents try to claim the child as a dependent in the same tax year, the Internal Revenue Service will ask the parents for an explanation and may impose penalties.
Generally, child support is set according to the guidelines. The court can order a different amount if one (or both) of the parties asks for a different amount and shows good reasons for the amount requested. If there are good reasons not to follow the guidelines, the court's worksheets and calculator will not apply. See Utah Code Section 78B-12-202 and Section 78B-12-210.
Court orders govern how and when the child support payments are made. For example, the court may enter an order requiring a non-custodial parent to make arrangements with their employer to withhold the child support amount from the parent's earnings, unless the parties agree to another method of payment. Child support payments may be made between the parties or through the Office of Recovery Services (ORS). ORS also helps establish and enforce financial and medical support for children. More information is available at Office of Recovery Services - Child Support
All parties must obey court orders. Custodial parents may not withhold parent time, even if child support is not being paid. A parent may not withhold child support even if parent time is being denied. If a party does not obey a court order, the other party may file a motion asking the court to enforce the order. The enforcement order can include a judgment for money owed. The court may also find a party in contempt of court and order the party to pay a fine or serve time in jail. For information and forms, see our page on Motion to Enforce Order.
Either parent can ask the court to increase or decrease the child support obligation, if there have been significant changes in income or in other circumstances since the support order was entered. For information and forms, see our page on Modifying Child Support.
Before an order from another state can be enforced or modified it first must be registered in Utah. For information and forms, see our page on Registering a Foreign Order.
Child Support Worksheets
- Use the Child Support Calculator to prepare child support worksheets suitable for filing.
To be used by either party to tell the court what they know about how much money the other party earns