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Calculating Child Support

The factors used to calculate child support payments are set by law. To calculate each parent's child support obligation the law generally applies each parent's income, including wages, assets such as stocks and bonds, welfare benefits, etc., and the standard of living of the child before the divorce. In certain cases, however, extraordinary needs of the child may be considered and deviations from the guidelines may be allowed. In most states where the court deviates from the guidelines, the judge is supposed to explain the reasons for the deviation in the order.

The amount of a child support award is more than a question of the child's bare necessities. If the child has a wealthy parent, that child is entitled to, and therefore needs something more than the bare necessities of life. Where the supporting parent enjoys a lifestyle that far exceeds the custodial parent's living standard, child support must to some degree reflect that more opulent lifestyle. This is so even though, as a practical matter, the child support payments will incidentally benefit others in the custodial household whom the other parent has no obligation to support

Child Support Formulas

Child support is a matter of state law and each state has their own system for calculating the payment amount. There are three basic models though that each state falls under:

  1. Flat Percentage
    The child support amount is based on a percentage of the non-custodial parent's income and the number of children they are supporting. The following states follow this rule: Alaska, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
  2. Income Shares - The majority of states follow this model
    The Income Shares model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together. Prior to the divorce or separation of the parents, the combined parental income is spent for the benefit of all household members, including any children. Thus, the income shares model calculates support as the share of each parent's income estimated to have been allocated to the child if the parents and child were living in an intact household. Using the Income Shares model, the amount of child support is basically determined by calculating the total amount needed for the support of the children and then pro-rating that amount between each parent based on his/her proportionate share of the total income. The obligor parent's obligation is payable as child support, while the other parent's portion retained and presumed to be spent directly on the child.

    For example: if the court has determined that the children need $1000 a month and the parents make a combined $100,000 annually, in which the father makes $60,000 annually and the mother makes $40,000 annually, the father will be required to pay $600 a month and the mother $400 a month.

    Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming follow this model.
  3. Melson Formula - Only Delaware, Hawaii and Montana follow this model
    The child support payment is calculated based on a variety of factors (the "Melson Factors"), including both parents' incomes and the needs of the child.

Support Past 18

Child support orders generally expire upon becoming a legal adult, which usually consists of turning 18 years of age or graduation from high school whichever comes later, or if the child has married, acquired an emancipation order or enlisted in the military.

Though every state does not require child support after graduation from high school some states do require support payments to continue if the child attends college. These states include: Alabama, Alaska, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington.

Inability to Pay

The inability of a parent to pay their child support order because they cannot work will not excuse them from the order. Missed payments will accrue as arrears even if a parent is in jail, in the hospital or any other situation which does not allow them to work. When the parent is able to work they will be required to pay back the arrears.

Custody vs Support

Every state treats child visitation and custody separately from the obligation to pay child support. If a parent is not granted visitation by the court or if the other parent interferes with a visitation or custody order the parent may not protest by refusing to pay their child support payments.

Changing an Order

A child support order is entered based on the parents' current income levels. A parent may not unilaterally reduce or stop their child support payments because of a loss of income or additional expenses. If a parent feels that their current child support payment is too high they may ask the court to modify the order. Until a modification order is entered the original child support amount is still in effect. Likewise, a parent may ask the court to increase a parent's child support payment because of added income or decreased expenses.

Cost of Child Care

A non-custodial parent may be required to pay part of the cost of their child's day care if the custodial parent uses day care to go to work. Because the employment of the custodial parent increases the amount of income used to support the child both parents benefit from the cost of child care. Thus, this cost may be divided between the parents (usually 50% each). The parent who actually pays for the child care receives payment from the other parent.

Speak to an Experienced Child Support Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified child support lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local child support attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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