Child support law is tough to understand. It’s also an area of the divorce process in which many non-custodial parents, who are usually fathers, feel they are often mistreated by family courts with court-ordered child support amounts that seem higher than they can afford.
Parts of the formulas used by courts to calculate the child support number are straightforward while others can seem quite complicated. Since every person’s situation is unique, there are individual factors, in addition to the support guidelines, that affect the total obligation.
Judges also have the discretion to deviate from the formula to account for what they deem unique circumstances in order to assign what they think is a reasonable child support amount.
Child support guidelines vary from state to state, so it is critical to do your research so you understand how the basic child support figures are calculated in your child support case.
There are two primary methods states use to calculate a child support obligation. One is called the Income Shares Model and the other is the Percentage of Income Model. The numbers used for each formula, however, will depend on where you live.
Income Shares Model
Most states follow the Income Shares model, which tries to proportionally divide the cost that it takes to raise a child based on each parent’s income.
Essentially, courts determine the amount it takes per month to raise a child, add each parent’s income, and then determine how much each parent would owe based off their contributions.
So if a court determined that it costs $900 per month to raise a child and the parents’ combined income is $90,000 with the father making $60,000 and the mother making $30,000 then the dad would owe $600 each month with the mother owing $300.
The parent that receives physical custody is then awarded the determined amount from the non-custodial parent while keeping their portion to spend on the child.
This model tries to come up with a figure based on what the parents would likely be contributing if they were still married.
Other factors can come into play, such as the number of children, medical expenses, child care costs and the actual custody arrangement.
Joint custody is a common arrangement with the parents splitting time with the children. The more overnights you are given with the kids, the lower your support amount will likely be.
However, this isn’t always the case, so make sure to speak with a local divorce attorney to determine the specific factors involved in your case and the laws in your state.
Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana use a modified version of the Income Shares Model called the Melson Formula. It seeks to ensure both parents’ basic needs are met as well as those of the children.
Percentage Of Income Model
The other common formula used to calculate child support amounts is the Percentage of Income Model. This formula only considers the income of the non-custodial parent in coming up with a child support percentage.
This model takes the income of the obligor and assigns a percentage that is taken out as child support based on state factors.
For example, a couple divorces where each spouse is making $50,000 annually. The mother is given primary physical custody and the state requires 18% of the obligor’s income be awarded to the custodial parent. Therefore, the dad would pay about $278 per month for child support.
Child support based on income percentage might seem simpler, but that doesn’t mean it’s the fairest.
This model may or may not account for the custody arrangement, depending on your jurisdiction, so again, it is critical to contact a family law attorney to better understand how child support is calculated in your jurisdiction.
Most states also periodically review the amount of child support money being paid, so you have the opportunity to file a motion to modify child support if you’ve had a significant change in circumstances since the initial order was issued, such as a substantial decrease in income, a change to the custody arrangement, etc. If there is a sudden change to your financial circumstances, it’s important to act quickly and file for a child support adjustment.
You can use an online child support calculator to get a very rough estimate of the amount you might owe, but since there are so many individual factors that are considered, you can’t be certain what you’ll be required to pay until the judge makes a ruling.
If you’re worried that you’re paying more child support than you can afford, or if you would like a more accurate estimation of how much you might be required to pay, contact a divorce lawyer to review your case. In addition to knowing how to figure child support and providing you with child support payment information, they’ll also be able to help you determine how to collect child support and how to file a petition to modify child support.