How Is the Amount of Child Support Determined?

State laws determine how much child support is appropriate and ordered. Different states use different formulas to arrive at the proper amount of support.

Income Shares Model

The majority of states use the income shares model, including California, New York, Ohio and Michigan. This model takes the income of both parents and adds them together. Then, based on the number of children that the support order is for, a specific amount of money is determined to be the proper amount of support by looking at the location of the net income and the number of children on a child support table. For example, if a custodial parent had income of $2,500 and the non-custodial parent had income of $2,000, the net income would be $4,500. If the couple had one child, the support obligation for the month might be $1,125. The amount of support is based on the expected cost of raising a child. The parents share the financial obligation to raise the child. The non-custodial parent’s income percentage will determine how much support is owed. For example, in this scenario, the non-custodial parent’s income makes up 44 percent of the parents’ combined incomes, so his or her support obligation would be 44 percent of the support obligation of $1,125, or $495 a month. Some states base figures off of the gross income while others use net income.

Percentage of Income Model

A few states use the percentage of income model. This includes Texas and Alaska. This model applies a certain percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income to determine the amount of ordered support. The percentage may be flat in which the percentage of income does not change even if the person’s pay does go up or down. In other cases, the percentage of income changes when the non-custodial parent’s income changes. If the non-custodial parent had income of $2,000 still and one child to support and the percentage that the state imputes is 25 percent, the child support obligation would be $500.

Combination Models

Some jurisdictions use a combination of the income shares model and the percentage of income model. This includes Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

Melson Formula

Another formula that is used is the Melson formula. Only three states use this model, which are Montana, Delaware and Hawaii. This formula bases the child support obligation on a particular set of factors. These factors include the child’s needs and the standard of living adjustment. The formula is similar to the income shares model. However, it allows for a greater degree of support as the parents increase their income. This allows a child to enjoy a greater standard of living when his or her parents’ income increases.

Standard Child Support

The models described above generally arrive at a standard amount of support based on income, percentages and expected costs of raising a child. This is generally the amount of support that is ordered in a case or agreed upon by the parents. However, the court has the discretion to adjust the amount of support up or down if there are reasons to deviate from the standard amount of child support.

Child Support Deviations

Courts generally have discretion to deviate from the standard amount of child support if there are special considerations. These may include childcare expenses, medical expenses, expenses for extracurricular activities, the child’s standard of living before any divorce, the ability of the non-custodial parent to pay and the child’s own resources. Another possible reason to deviate from child support guidelines is how much time the child spends with the paying parent. A child who is disabled may require greater support than a child who is not.

Additional Considerations

If a parent is already paying child support for another child, this amount of support is typically deducted from their income before determining the amount of required support. For this deduction to arise, the support payment must usually be ordered by the court and the parent must be making the payments. The child support agreement or order may contain additional stipulations about other expenses, such as splitting healthcare costs between the parents or including information related to higher education expenses. The cost of visitation expenses may be divided between the parties in proportion to their income depending on state law and the order. In some cases, a parent’s income may be imputed to him or her by the court if the parent is not working or is under-employed. Special calculations may be considered when a parent is self-employed.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.
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