Child support is a court determined, periodic payment that is typically ordered when two parents are no longer living together or in a divorce proceeding. Child support is intended to help provide for the costs of raising a child. Child support guidelines provide an outline of all of the different factors that may be considered when calculating a child support award figure. These factors are generally related to the parents and include their income, financial stability, monthly needs, and work history. 

Child support guidelines may also consider the needs of the child, such as their educational background, as well as physical and mental health. Each state has different laws regarding child support calculation, and child support guidelines may even vary from county to county within each state.

There is no one set amount of child support because of all of the factors involved in the child support calculation. However, the average amount you may expect to pay for child support ranges from around 20 % to 25% of your net income per month. 

This amount is intended to assist in covering the needs of the child, such as health insurance, education and daycare costs, and costs related to any special needs the child may have. It is typically the noncustodial parent that makes child support payments, as they are considered to be less involved in the day to day care of the child.

Some of the more specific factors a court may consider when calculating monthly child support amounts include:

  • The child’s age, gender, and overall background;
  • Whether the child has any special needs, whether physical, medical, or academic;
  • The income and education levels of each parent; and
  • The number of children involved in the custody arrangement.

What is and is not Considered Income?

Out of all of the different factors considered when calculating child support, one of the most important is the parents income levels. Child support amounts are generally fixed according to the income of each parent. For child support calculation purposes, the term income for parents might include:

  • Wages and salaries from employment;
  • Tips, commission, and other types of bonuses;
  • Earnings from any self-employed activities;
  • Unemployment, disability, or worker’s comp benefits;
  • Interest, dividends, and other sources of finance;
  • Income from rental properties;
  • Pension and social security; or
  • Winnings from lotteries and other prizes.

There are some sources that may not be considered parent income under most state child support guidelines. These sources are excluded from any child support calculations and may include:

  • Taxes;
  • Various contributions and dues collected, such as those related to a union membership;
  • Premiums related to healthcare coverage;
  • Child or spousal support that is already being paid; or
  • Costs related to child rearing from another relationship, whether past or current.

Typically, these types of income will be subtracted from the overall income previously discussed. The remaining amount is referred to as net disposable income, which usually forms the general basis for the child support calculation.

What does Child Support Cover, and Can Child Support Payments be Adjusted?

As previously mentioned, child support is intended to aid in the financial care of a child. Child support payments not only cover necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing, but also other expenses that are incurred by the custodial parent as a result of caring for the child. 

These payments may also cover:

  • School fees and expenses;
  • Medical expenses; or
  • Extracurricular activities.

It is the court’s intention that the child maintains the same standard of living as before the divorce or separation of their parents. As such, they take nonpayment of child support very seriously. The court may need to intervene to collect any missing amounts, and may issue an additional court order that requires the parent to make the payments. Repeated failure may result in legal consequences such as a contempt order with the court, wage garnishment, or potentially even criminal consequences such as jail time.

One way to avoid such issues is to seek a child support modification if you are unable to continue making child support payments in the same amount originally ordered by the court. Most child support payment arrangements are meant to be set for long periods of time, generally until the child turns eighteen or graduates high school. However, they can sometimes be changed or adjusted if the court deems this necessary based on the circumstances. 

These circumstances generally involve major life changes, such as:

  • A change in residence;
  • A loss of employment; or
  • Reduction in salary.

Generally speaking, if the modification would not benefit the child affected, the court will not typically allow a change in the amount required for child support payments. However, upon a showing of a material change in the circumstances of one of the parents, a modification of a previously issued child support order may be warranted. 

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

As can be seen, determining child support amounts involves state-specific requirements, and is influenced by several factors. It is important to the child’s well being that a proper amount of child support is calculated, and that it is paid on time. 

A skilled and knowledgeable child support attorney can help you understand your state’s requirements and calculation process, and will represent your interests in court as needed. Additionally, should you need to seek out a child support order modification, your attorney will assist in presenting your case for modification to the court.