Q. When we got married, my wife moved from Massachusetts to live with me in Montreal. When things soured, she went back our then 5-year-old, Ellie, back to her folks’ house in Massachusetts.
I earn $30,000 Canadian as an apprentice electrician, which is about $24,000 U.S. I spend 10 percent of my income paying for my 10-hour, drive 700-mile round-trip drive from Montreal to see Ellie in Massachusetts. And, that’s with me sleeping on a couch in her parents’ home.
My wife’s Massachusetts divorce complaint wants me to pay alimony, child support, and contribute to Ellie’s after-school care and health insurance, even though the latter two would be free if she lived in Canada.
I found online and plugged our respective incomes into a Massachusetts child support calculator. The result showed me paying $198 weekly child support, which is $246.60 Canadian a week or $12,823 a year, about 43 percent of my gross income. Is that what I’m facing?
A. I’ve heard that some of the online child support calculators are inaccurate. You need to print out the form and do the calculations by hand.
Massachusetts child support is usually 20-22 percent of the gross income – not 43 percent. Of course you have to pay income tax on your income and you don’t get a deduction for paying child support. Your wife gets tax-free child-support dollars. But if there’s a written agreement or court order, the Canadian “Income Tax Act” lets you deduct alimony paid to your non-Canadian-resident ex-wife. So if you pay her unallocated support, you’ll pay less Canadian income taxes.
Also, because that 43 percent is so high, I suspect you didn’t convert your Canadian income into U.S. dollars before you did the calculations. Because there is a constant shift in the value of U.S. to Canadian dollar, the fairest approach is to start by using the annual average value as of Jan. 1. Then, if on the next Jan. 1, there’s been more than a 5 percent change in the exchange rate, the child support should be recalculated.
Massachusetts judges must order child support based on the child support guideline calculation. However, they have discretion to increase or decrease the child support. So, the judge can reduce the support by some or all of the expenses you incur in traveling to see Ellie. Your wife may argue there should be no deduction because you caused the separation.
You can argue she could have stayed and got work in Montreal where she and Ellie would have free health and after-school care. At the least, the judge should split your travel costs. Be sure to keep detailed receipts and a record of every little and large travel expense because the judges know it takes two to tango and two to fight, so there’s no one-way street.