Child support payments are periodic payments that are paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent in order to provide for the financial needs of a child of divorce. Common financial needs of a child that are covered by child support payments include food, shelter, medical care, clothing, and educational expenses. 

A child support order is typically a part of a divorce decree, paternity judgment, or other suits affecting the parent child relationship. The child support order that is issued by the court will contain how much child support a parent is to pay, when the payments are to be made, as well as how often the payments must be made. For example, in Texas a typical child support order for one child is twenty percent of the paying parent’s net resources paid monthly on the first of the month. 

Importantly, there is no standard amount or standard calculation when it comes to calculating child support. Further, child support laws and child support guidelines vary by state. Therefore, a child support order in one state will differ vastly from an amount ordered in another state. However, according to census data, the average amount of money paid yearly for child support is between $3,500 and $5,000. 

How Does a Court Determine the Amount of Child Support?

When calculating the amount of child support, a court will typically use some guideline or formula in order to ensure that the amount ordered is not arbitrary. As noted above, there is no federal guideline in awarding child support, so each state utilizes its own methods and factors to determine how much child support should be ordered. 

Some of the specific factors that a state may use when determining how much child support should be ordered include:

  • Specific Needs of the Child: The specific needs of the child, such as their healthcare needs, education expenses, day care expenses, and any special needs that the child may have is the main factor in determining the amount of child support. As noted above, the purpose of child support is to make sure that a child of divorce is fully provided for and that the divorce or separation does not have a significant negative impact on them. Thus, child support orders will be made in the child’s best interest;
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  • Gross Monthly Income of Parents: The income of both parents, as well as their ability to pay will be one of the greatest factors when it comes to calculating and awarding child support. It is important to remember that a court may and will often use other factors, in addition to a parent’s monthly net resources, when determining child support;
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  • Age and Status of the Child: Depending on the specific laws of the state, the age of the child may be used when determining the amount of child support award. For example, some states allow for a parents to cease paying child support when a child reaches the age of majority or graduates high school. However, other states require that a child either graduate college, get married, or enlist in the military before a parent may cease making child support payments. In any state however, the emancipation of the child will typically cause a parent to no longer have the obligation to support the child financially;
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  • Amount of Children: A court will also consider the amount of children that the paying parent is obligated to support from their current of past relationships; and
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  • The Child’s Standard of Living Prior to the Separation or Divorce: Another important factor a court may use when determining child support is the child’s standard of living prior to the separation of the parents. Courts typically wish to ensure that the child maintains the same standard of living after the divorce or separation. Thus, they may modify a child support calculation in order to ensure that the divorce does not impact a child’s previous standard of living.

As noted above, a court will typically use a formula that takes into account the amount of monthly net resources of the paying parent. Therefore, the court awarding child support will usually require that both parents submit a financial statement that details each of their monthly net resources and expenses. 

Based on that financial information, combined with the factors listed above, the court will then calculate the exact amount of child support to be paid. Along with the child support order, a court will also typically create a visitation schedule and an order for child custody

Can Child Support Orders Be Modified?

Child support orders may generally be modified. Once the original order for child support is issued, there may be a significant or material change in the circumstances of either parent or the child that may require the original support order to be modified. 

When considering whether to modify the original court order for child support, a court will re-evaluate the factors discussed above, as well as whether there has been a material or significant change since the order was issued. If the court finds that there is a need for the original order to be modified, then the court is free to do so. Generally, the court that issued the original child support order will have jurisdiction over the request for modification. 

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with Child Support Issues?

As can be seen, the calculation of child support involves a variety of factors and differs based on what state you reside in. Therefore, if you are involved in a separation that involves children, it is in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and well qualified family law attorney in your area. An experienced family law attorney will be able to inform you of how your state calculates child support. Additionally, they will be able to represent your interests in court, should the issue of child support become contested.