Should Future Bonuses Be Used in Calculating Child Support?

By Rob Jennings J.D.

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Many employees receive a bonus in addition to their base salary. Bonuses can be a one-time event or recur periodically. While you may not think that a state would consider future bonuses when calculating child support during a divorce, since they are often speculative, most states do use them in their calculations. The courts reason that it would be unfair to exclude them from their definition of income. If bonuses didn't count towards child support, parents who get bonuses would have an advantage over those who earn the same amount but receive the income as part of their regular salary.

Income Defined

Child support calculation is based upon the laws of individual states and therefore varies from place to place. In general, child support guidelines take into account the incomes of the parents along with certain child-related expenses like medical insurance and work-related child care costs. A payor's income is a critical factor in determining how much child support he or she must pay. Usually, states include all income from all sources, including future bonuses. Many states specifically mention bonuses in their child support codes. Other states do not include bonuses in child support calculations, but require the payor to report them yearly. The party then pays a percentage of the bonus as child support after it is received.

One-time Bonus

Some states allow courts to exclude one-time bonuses if the party can show that they will not or are unlikely to receive the bonus in the future. This does not mean, however, that sporadic bonuses will always be excluded; states can aggregate sporadic bonuses over a given time period to derive a monthly average. The only way to escape the averaging of sporadic bonuses will be to satisfy the court that bonuses will not be received in the future. In some states, the law includes one-time bonuses in determining child support by reasoning that child support is based on the payor's economic situation at the time child support is calculated, not upon what it may or may not be in the future.

Recurring Bonus

When a party receives a recurring bonus, some states calculate child support by averaging the party's income over a period of time. The state may also prorate the income if it is recurring, but periodic. For instance, if a person receives a bonus every five years, the state may allocate that income by dividing the bonus by 60 -- the number of months in a five-year period -- and adding it to the payor's monthly income.

Bonus Not Received

If a party paying child support receives a large bonus one year, but does not get one the next year, that party can petition the court for a modification of his child support. The moving party bases the modification petition upon earning less income than was projected in the last support order. Even if a projected bonus was not received, however, the court could still take an average of bonuses that were received in the past and add that amount to the payor's income for child support purposes.