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Should future bonuses be considered in support payments?

The law in Nebraska is clear and concise: An increase in a parent's income does not, by itself, justify an increase in child support.

Forgetting to take bonuses into account while figuring out child support payments, especially in the case of high-earners, could mean seeing the children cut off from a significant source of income.

A little advance planning during your divorce can help you keep things equitable later on. Consider your available options for dealing with bonuses before you finalize anything:

-- Calculate regularly anticipated bonuses into the monthly child support payment. If your spouse regularly receives a year end bonus, that bonus can be averaged out based on figures from the past few years and used to calculate the monthly child support.

For example, if your spouse is a partner in a medical firm and receives an annual bonus each year based on his or her contribution to the company and the company's profits, those are likely fairly steady over the long term. It may be easiest to figure an average amount into the monthly child support obligation.

-- Allow your ex-spouse to contribute a set portion of each bonus after it is received. If bonuses tend to be difficult to anticipate and vary widely, it may be more equitable to allow your ex-spouse to pay a percentage of the after-tax bonuses in a lump sum payment as they are received.

For example, if your spouse is a sales executive for luxury goods and bonuses tend to rise and fall with the economy and customer demand, that might be a fairer way to handle the issue. It would still give the children a share of the income without putting a monthly strain on your ex-spouse's wallet.

Ideally, you want to come to an arrangement that will keep you and your ex-spouse from constantly fighting about child support in court. A protracted court battle is going to end up depleting everyone's funds, and take money out of both of your hands.

At the same time, keep in mind that it isn't fair for your ex-spouse to keep the entire bonus, just because it's "extra income." If you were still married, your children would no doubt benefit from that bonus. That shouldn't change just because you're now divorced—the purpose of child support is to make sure that the children benefit fairly from their parents' incomes, even when that income is irregular.

Source: supremecourt.nebraska.gov, "4-219. Limitation on increase," accessed Jan. 05, 2017

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