Under Missouri divorce law, courts have the power to order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the support of the child. (RSMo 452.340.1). It is now a very rare circumstance where a parent is not required to bear some portion of the support responsibilities for the children — even though the other parent may have sufficient income to satisfy the children’s needs. This is because the public policy in Missouri is that, even after a divorce, both parents should have meaning contact with their children; accordingly, each parent should be an important source of financial and emotional support for their children.
How is the amount of child support payments determined? The easiest way is for the parents of the children to come together and reach an agreement regarding child support. Courts, however, are not obligated to follow such contracts. Depending on the reasonableness of the parties’ contract, a court may nevertheless still enter an order of child support.
Alternatively, a court may simply order a child support amount and obligation after looking through all relevant facts. In Missouri, Civil Procedure Form No. 14 provides a presumed amount of child support. Form 14 provides a two step procedure for determining payments. First, the relevant facts (age, condition of the child, etc.) are entered into a set mathematical formula, which gives the court a bottom line payment. Second, the court is required to consider whether this amount is appropriate given the circumstances of the case. Subsequently, Form 14 serves as a sort of default guidepost which a court may or may not follow. It exists to simplify and aid the courts in deciding the fiscal responsibility of each parent toward their children after a divorce.
Although the computation of child support payments seems cold and purely mathematical, it is paramount to arrive at the “right” number. Once ordered by the court, the modification of a child support payment requires a new, separate action. Consequently, individuals should ensure to reach a number that is best for the children; the worst thing you can do is arrive at an inadequate amount which necessitates more litigation and expenses.