On its regular four-year schedule, the State Court Administrator’s Office issued an updated Michigan Child Support Formula Manual and Supplement, effective January 1, 2021. This review will briefly discuss several of the more significant changes from the 2017 Manual and Supplement. Page ii of the Manual more completely summarizes the major changes from 2017 to 2021.
One expected change affecting all family law matters involving minor children is the increase in the ordinary medical amount from $403 per child to $454 per child for all child support orders entered on or after January 1, 2021.
A significant addition to the Manual and Supplement is the new Incapacitated Parent section, found at 2021 MCSF Section 4.02, which considers circumstances where a parent is either temporarily or permanently unable to earn income for a period that will likely last at least 180 days. This section includes incarceration as a form of incapacity to pay child support, resulting in the deletion of section 1.04(E) which previously addressed incarceration through a support deviation factor.
A central goal of the new section is to provide flexibility to the parties, the Friend of the Court and the Court in situations where the period of incapacity may well be uncertain. Incapacity is defined to include disability, mental incompetency, serious injury, debilitating illness, or incarceration. Recognizing that MCL 552.603 generally prohibits retroactive modification of child support and that the length of a period of incapacitation may be unknown for some time, Section 4.02 provides a framework for a payer to provide early notice of the incapacity and an opportunity for the Court to adopt a flexible approach to reviewing necessary changes in child support.
For example, assume a situation where the payer mother sustains injuries in a car accident that leave her unable to work. Section 4.02 gives her the opportunity to seek an interim adjustment of her support obligation, including setting a zero support obligation while she is incapacitated under 4.02(B), while allowing the Court to defer a final decision until the period of her incapacity can be more accurately defined both temporally and financially under 4.02(D). Additionally, under this scenario, the Court could then also take into consideration circumstances, such as a later government disability determination or litigation recovery which sometimes occur several years later, or whether the degree of incapacitation is significant enough to merit a change in the parenting time schedule. The key to Section 4.02 is the prompt filing of a motion to modify the support obligation.
Practitioners should carefully review the provisions of Section 4.02. It provides significant flexibility in what is often viewed as a rigid system and may be particularly timely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect many people.