If you are facing a child custody or divorce case you may have heard about this thing called a UCSO. But what is a UCSO? And why do you need it in your child support case?
Lawyers like acronyms. We shorten all kinds of things to letters and sometimes forget that you — the client — don’t know the lingo. When it comes to family law, one of the biggest culprit of legalese is the UCSO. Here’s what it is, how to understand it, and why you need it in your child support case.
What is a UCSO?
UCSO stands for Uniform Child Support Order. This is a form completed in every divorce with children, custody, paternity, and child support case. It directs one parent to pay the other parent a certain amount of child support every month. It also contains details about which parent is required to provide health insurance and how medical expenses will be divided between the parties.
In most cases, the UCSO is prepared by your family law attorney and signed by both parties and both attorneys before it is sent to and signed by the judge. If you do not have an attorney, or if your case is sent to the Friend of the Court for a child support investigation, an employee of the Friend of the Court office may prepare the UCSO for you to review and sign.
When Will You See a UCSO?
A Uniform Child Support Order can be entered any time after the initial Complaint is filed. In many cases a “Temporary” or “Interim” UCSO is entered early in the case to make sure the parent caring for the children has enough money to pay for their food, housing, clothes and other expenses.
Whether you have a Temporary Child Support Order or not, at the end of the case you will be issued a Final Uniform Child Support Order. In most Michigan counties this is true even when everyone agrees there should be no child support paid. In that case the UCSO will simply award $0.00 to the Payee by the Payor.
After the case is closed and the Judgment of Divorce or Final Custody Order is entered, you can still ask the court to issue a new UCSO if the amount of your child support needs to change. Most often this happens because:
- One parent gets a new job
- One parent loses his or her job
- One parent receives a substantial raise
- The child begins attending child care (up to age 12)
- There is a change in the custody and parenting time arrangement
When there has been a change in circumstances large enough to modify the existing child support order, the court will order a new UCSO reflecting the change.
What is Included in a Uniform Child Support Order?
The Uniform Child Support Order form is designed to put all financial support issues together in one place. It includes:
- Each parent’s contact information
- Each parent’s employment information
- The names and birthdates of each child
- The number of overnights awarded to the paying parent
- The “Effective Date” when the order begins
- The amount of child support due
- The division of uninsured health care costs
- The end date (if a child will still attend high school after his or her 18th birthday)
- Who is responsible to cover insurance
- Any other specific terms
The amount of child support is broken down by the number of children covered, and includes contributions to everyday medical expenses (like bandaids), health insurance premiums, and child care costs.
There are also several other paragraphs included in every UCSO by default, including the use of an Income Withholding Order. Be sure you understand these “boilerplate” provisions and talk to your attorney if they shouldn’t apply to your case.
Why Do You Need a UCSO?
Child support is not a parent’s right. It is the right of every child in Michigan to receive support from both parents according to their ability to pay. That means that a parent can’t simply say he or she “doesn’t want anything” from the child’s other parent.
Instead, child support is calculated according to a formula laid out by law. It is based on the incomes of both parties and the division of overnights between them. The UCSO helps make sure the proper procedures are followed. If the child support that is ordered is different from the amount recommended by the child support formula, the UCSO explains the deviation and why it is happening.
The use of a Uniform Child Support Order makes it easier for the Friend of the Court to enforce child support consistently, ensuring that the Payee gets what he or she needs to support the child and the Payor gets credit for those payments. Before the court adopted a UCSO, errors in accounting or differences in how child support awards were worded caused problems that took thousands of dollars in attorney time to unravel.
A UCSO, and the calculation of child support in general, can seem cold and detached from everything else happening in your family law case. But by paying attention to the details on your UCSO, you can be sure your needs are met and your children’s rights are protected.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps families facing divorce and custody disputes. If you need help resolving a child support issue, contact Schmidt & Long for a free consultation today.