CHILD SUPPORT HEARING
If you and the other parent are not able to reach an agreement on child support, you will have a child support hearing. This hearing is held by the magistrate rather than the judge. In Vermont’s courts with multiple hearing rooms, this hearing is usually held in the smallest of them. The point of this hearing is to decide how much child support is appropriate based on three things:
Where the child spends overnight visits.
The incomes of each parent.
The expenses of the parents (mostly health insurance, medical expenses, and daycare).
The child support order will be based on the child support guidelines, and the State of Vermont has a calculator that you can use to estimate what your child support is likely to be here.
If you have any unusual circumstances or the child support estimate is too high or too low, you can ask the magistrate to "deviate" from the guidelines (award a higher or lower amount.
What is the hearing like?
The magistrate will sit at the “bench” (desk) in the front of the room, and you and the other parent will have small tables to sit at. You’ve seen this setup on television of course, though there probably aren’t going to be any “smoking guns” or surprises of any kind in this hearing. It’s all about finances, and yours – like everyone else’s – are pretty boring.
The plaintiff will present evidence first. Usually the plaintiff does this by being sworn in as a witness and then explaining the plaintiff’s income and expenses to the judge. The way to do this is by using your financial affidavit and financial statements. The judge may ask questions. When the plaintiff has finished explaining these items, the defendant has a chance to cross examine the plaintiff. The plaintiff can have someone else testify as a witness, too, although this is pretty uncommon. Some people might have an accountant or employer testify to back them up on the income they are claiming, but it’s pretty unusual. If you have a W-2 and last year's tax return, there’s probably no reason to have another witness.
If you or the other other party is self employed (does not get a W-2), you will want 3-5 years of tax returns because it is tricky to show what someone's income actually is if they are self-employed.
When the plaintiff is finished, the defendant has the chance to do the same thing.
Checklist: What to Bring to Court
Your financial affidavit.
Your tax return from last year.
Your paystubs for the last few pay periods.
Your major recent bills for rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment, credit card payments.
Major expense for children, such as daycare, education, or health care.
Information about the child’s health insurance and whether health insurance is available to you through your job.
Tips on Cross Exam
On television, cross examination often ends in a “gotcha” moment. It almost never does in a child support hearing. Most of the time, there’s no reason to ask more than a couple of follow-up questions after the other parent has testified. It’s much better to ask questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer on cross examination! You don’t want to give the other party the chance to go over his or her evidence again. If the other party (or witness) insists on going into a rambling explanation, interrupt and say this to the magistrate: “Your honor, please instruct the witness to answer only my question.” This sentence works like magic.
Some good questions to ask are:
Didn’t you earn some income under the table last year?
You claim a lot of expenses on your taxes for your business that benefit you as much as the company, don’t you?
You chose not to work overtime in the last few weeks, didn’t you? You could have worked more if you wanted to, right?