Child Custody and Support

Child Custody

Child custody is the privilege and duty to control, care for, supervise and educate your minor child.

Physical custody refers to the routine daily care and control and the residence of the child. In sole custody arrangements, one parent takes care of the child the majority of the time and makes major decisions about the child. In joint physical custody arrangements both parents share in caring for the child.

Legal custody means the right to determine the child's upbringing, including education, health care and religious training. Joint legal custody means that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in major decisions determining the child's upbringing.

When the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding custody and parenting time with their child, the court must do so. The court bases its decisions on custody and visitation arrangements on the best interests of the child, using various criteria.

Child Support

Child support is court-ordered payment by one parent to the custodial parent of a minor child after divorce or separation as a contribution to the costs of raising a child. This is a provision to ensure that the child should receive equal support from both parents which he/she would have received had there been no divorce.

All states have set guidelines to determine child support. These guidelines use different formulas based upon the income of either or both parents, the number of children, and various other relevant factors. There are typically three basic child support calculation models used: The Income Shares Model; the Percentage of Income model (either flat percentage or varying percentage), and the Melson Formula model.

Income Shares Model:

The foundation of this model is the idea that a child should receive the same proportion of parental income that the child would have received had the parents not divorced. It calculates child support as the estimated share of each parentís income that would have been apportioned to the child if they had been living in an intact household.

The percentage to be applied is determined by the number of children, and in some states, by the ages of the children.

Percentage of Income Model:

This model uses only the noncustodial parentís income, either gross or net, to determine child support. It sets support as a percentage of that parentís income. There are two methods used: the flat percentage model or the varying percentage model. With the flat percentage application, the percentage of income allocated to the child remains constant at all income levels. When using the varying percentage method, the amount allocated varies according to the level of income.

As in the Income Shares Model, the percentage of support to be applied is determined by the number of children, and in some states, by the ages of the children.

Melson Formula Model:

This model was named after Judge Elwood F. Melwood of the Delaware Family Court. It was adopted by the Delaware Supreme Courtís 1989 decision in Dalton v. Clanton. It is a more complicated version of the income shares model, but recognizes three basic beliefs:
      1. Support of others is impossible until oneís own basic support needs are met;

      2. Further enhancement of the parentsí own economic status should not be allowed until the parents jointly, in proportion to their incomes, meet the basic poverty level needs of their children; and

      3. Incorporating a Standard of Living Adjustment (SOLA) reflects that parents should share their additional incomes with their children, improving their childrenís standard of living as their own standard of living improves.
This model assigns to each parent a poverty self-support reserve. It then determines the total remaining combined parental income, the noncustodial parentís percentage thereof, and applies the noncustodial parentís percentage to a standard primary support obligation based on the number of children. After the primary support obligation is subtracted, the formula then assesses the noncustodial parent an additional percentage of his/her remaining income.


Child Custody and Support Laws by State

Laws governing the awarding of child custody, child visitation and child support in divorce cases vary from state to state. The following links provide general overviews of individual states' child custody and support laws.

Child Custody and Support Law Articles

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