Since so many factors go into determining the amount for child support, there is no standard amount set by the court. Every child support order is calculated on an individual basis and depends on the needs and background of the child. Also, child support laws and guidelines differ from place to place, so the amount required will vary from place to place.
On the whole, census data states that an average figure for child support is anywhere from $430- $500 per month. Figures like these are usually subject to increase, as cost of living usually tends to increase over time.
How Does the Court Determine the Amount of Child Support?
Federal law requires that all courts use some kind of official guideline or formula when determining child support payments to ensure that the amounts granted are not arbitrary (varying wildly from courtroom to courtroom). However, the federal law has not adopted any one guideline, so each state has its own method of determining how much each parent must pay for child support.
The guidelines all utilize extremely complicated formulas involving the parent's wages and hours of visitation granted and so forth, so you will likely have to contact a lawyer knowledgeable in family law to determine exactly how much you will have to pay.
Common Factors Considered in Establishing Guideline Child Support
Although each state differs in its exact approach and mathematical formula, most of them consider the following factors in setting child support rates:
- Gross Monthly Income: Obviously, the single greatest determiner of your child support payments will be your salary. Usually the courts will divide your monthly salary into weekly amounts, factor in the number of children you have, and then apply a formula to it to arrive at your basic child support amount (which can then be modified by other factors). This usually comes up with a set amount plus a percentage.
- Number of Children: The number of children you have is certainly important, but it is generally not used as a multiplier. That is, the amount you must pay for one child will not usually double or triple for two or three children. The increase will be determined by computing a formula.
- Custody and Visitation: Some States, like Oregon, also employ complex formulas factoring in the amount of visitation time each parent is given. These "visitation time credits" can be used to lower the child support payments.
- Age of the Children: Often, Children above a certain age (usually 12) will be entitled to more than the basic child support amount. Some states increase the final amount by 10%, for instance. Child support is usually not allowed after the child's 18th birthday (some exceptions to this rule, such as if the child has not graduated high school), and almost never after his 20th birthday.
- Health Insurance: The court will definitely inquire as to whether either parent has health insurance that will cover the child, and will generally lower the amount of payments necessary for the parent providing the coverage.
- Potential Earning Capacity: Almost every state gives judges the discretion to look at the non-custodial parent's earning potential, instead of his actual salary. That is, if you are earning far less than you could be (such as an engineer working at McDonalds for no good reason), the court will use your potential salary (that you could be making) to calculate the child support. But if there is a good reason for your choice of job, (such as working part time because you are caring for an infant), the judge will certainly take that into account as well.
- Subsequent Families: In instances where the non-custodial parent has remarried and has children by a subsequent marriage, most courts will examine such circumstances closely to determine if further obligations would be unfair to the parent. Subsequent families can be used as a defense to requests for a child support increase, but will almost never be allowed as evidence in a request to decrease past support obligations.
Can I Change Child Support Payments?
Child support orders can usually be modified if needed in the future. After the original child support order is issued, it’s expected that the child’s needs will change as they grow up. A child support modification may be needed, and can be requested with the court as needed. The court may do a re-evaluation of the different support factors, and may come up with a new figure as needed by the parties.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Support Calculations?
Child support is very important for the proper upbringing of the child or children involved. It’s in your best interests to seek and hire a qualified family law attorney in your state who knows the laws in your area. A qualified lawyer will be familiar with the guidelines in your area, and can help you with your court filings. Also, in the event of a support contest, your lawyer can represent you in a court of law.