Stepparents’ Income and Support for Children of Other Relationships

In both Oregon and Washington, child support is calculated based on the parents’ income. A question that sometimes asked is whether, if a parent subsequently marries someone else, whether that stepparent’s income has an effect on support. As noted in a recent case, in Oregon, the answer is usually not.

When the parents were divorced, the mother received custody of the children, and the father was ordered to pay child support. He subsequently lost his job, and moved to modify the support award based on the reduction in his income. He was unable to find work, and eventually started a business that had yet to turn a profit at the time of the hearing on his motion.

The husband had also remarried, and at the time of the hearing, his new family relied primarily on the stepmother’s military disability benefits. He testified that he was meeting family and business expenses of $4,880 per month, in part from his savings and in part from the stepmother’s income. He acknowledged receiving unemployment that would expire within months and National Guard pay of $400/month.

The mother argued that because the husband was meeting his expenses, his income should be set at those expenses. The Court of Appeals ruled that this would improperly include the stepmother’s income.

Oregon has adopted rules for calculating child support. The first step is determination of several factors including the income of the parents, the number of children, and the parenting time schedule. Based on these factors, a total expected support total is determined, and divided between the parents based on their relative incomes and their percentage of parenting time.

Income may include a parent’s potential income, but this factor is usually considered only if a parent leaves a job for the purpose of avoiding a support obligation, or if the parent is unemployed or underemployed and earning less than full-time minimum wage. An involuntary change, such as happened in this case, usually leads to setting the parent’s income at minimum wage. It does not, however, include a steparent’s income.

Instead, stepparents’ income may be used, if it causes a significant financial advantage to the family, to modify the calculated support. The mother did not claim that the stepmother’s income should be used in this manner, so the court didn’t consider it. The typical case in which the courts take this into account involve complete or near-complete reliance on the new spouse’s income, as shown by changes in employment or other factors.

If you are involve in a child support dispute and either you or the other parent has remarried, you may want to consider whether to argue the stepparent’s income should or should not be considered in determining support. You may want to talk to a lawyer about the extent to which the stepparent’s income does or does not affect the financial situation to get an opinion as to whether the stepparent’s income may be considered. Usually, it won’t be, but sometimes, it can be argued.

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