The internet offers a wealth of information that is easily accessible, literally at our fingertips. If you don’t know something, just pull up Google on your smart phone, type in a question and receive an instant answer.
So when a client comes into my office for the first time, I’m not surprised when they tell me that they already know what they will receive/pay in child support because they calculated it themselves using a free child support calculator they found online. Unfortunately, many are surprised when I tell them that the child support calculator did not give them accurate numbers. This happens for a lot of different reasons.
First, an internet child support calculator arrives at numbers based on the figures and information that you input into it. If you don’t know child support rules, chances are that you will be inputting wrong information. For instance, the calculation of one’s net income. Many people do not know that bonuses, overtime pay, vested stock options, etc., are considered income for purposes of calculating support. Many people also miscalculate the amount of custody time they have; they think they have primary custody when they actually have shared custody meaning that a shared custody deviation likely applies. The incorrect calculation of a person’s income or amount of custody time they have can make a huge impact on the child support calculation.
Second, there are a lot of legal issues to consider when calculating child support. Perhaps the most common is earning capacity. When a party is not working outside of the home, or they left one job for a lower paying job, it might be appropriate to calculate the child support not on what they are currently earning (or not earning), but by what they could potentially earn based on their education and experience. A free internet child support calculator cannot make this kind of determination.
Third, deviations from the child support guidelines are sometimes warranted when there are extraordinary expenses or needs. For instance, perhaps a child has a substantial amount of medical expenses due to a medical condition; an upward deviation from the guidelines may be warranted. Internet child support calculators cannot calculate this.
The lesson here is not to completely avoid free child support calculators you find on the web– I have no problem with clients doing their own research – but don’t depend on them as a source of free legal advice. Hiring and consulting with a lawyer may be an expense that some people want to avoid, but ignorance can be much more expensive, particularly over the months or years the child support obligation may run. You just might find that the “free” internet calculator was not worth the cost.