When a child is born, the biological parents of the child become legally obligated to financially support them until the age of majority, which differs by state, but is usually 18. Therefore, parents who are divorced or separated while having children under the age of majority will almost always need to determine child support.

The exact way that the amount of child support is calculated differs by state. Some states, like California for instance, may provide a government website with a Child Support Calculator so that parents can get a good idea of what to expect. Whether your state has a calculator like this available or not, a family law attorney will be very familiar with the calculations and will be able to help explain exactly how the calculation is performed.

What Are the Main Factors in Calculating Child Support?

The calculation of child support depends on numerous factors, which differ by state. The following factors are almost always taken into consideration when calculating child support:

Income of Both Parents: The actual income of both parents is taken into consideration, as is the earning ability of a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. For example, a parent who is educated and licensed to work as a doctor, but chooses to work only 6 months a year, will still have child support calculated based on the amount that they could reasonably be earning if they worked all year, considering their education, training, and experience. This ensures that a child support calculation does not come out unfairly skewed when a parent chooses to earn less money than they are capable of earning in order to reduce the amount of child support that is due.

Custodial Arrangements: The parent that has physical custody of the child or children will obviously incur more expenses to take care of the child (e.g. groceries, clothing, extracurricular activities). The child support calculation is intended to make sure that all of the child’s needs are met, so it is typically the custodial parent that will receive a child support payment. However, a non-custodial parent could potentially be entitled to a child support payment depending on the details of the custody arrangement and if the income of the parents is very unproportionate.

Number, Age, and Marital Status of Children: Raising a child is expensive, so raising multiple children will of course be even more expensive. For this reason, child support is calculated based on the number of children that the parents are financially obligated to support. As one child reaches the age/status that the parents are no longer obligated to financially support them, the child support amount will be reduced to reflect the fact that the parents are now responsible for financially supporting one less child.

Child support agreements generally allow the parents to cut off financial support when the child reaches the age of majority. However, some states will allow custody agreements to require that the child graduates from college or that the child becomes married before the support can be terminated.

Child’s Standard of Living Before Divorce or Separation: The courts also look at the standard of living for the child before the divorce. All child custody and support proceedings are intended to focus on what is in the best interest of the child. For this reason, the court will try to ensure that the child receives the same standard of living after the divorce/separation to minimize the disruption and negative effects upon the child.

Needs of the Child: Children often differ in the amount of financial support they require based on things like age or medical status. For example, when considering a child who is still too young to go to school, the courts will often direct what portion of daycare expenses each parent should be responsible for. Similarly, a custody agreement will typically dictate which parent is obligated to provide health insurance and how any out-of-pocket medical expenses are to be split. For children with special needs, the court will also consider how additional expenses should be handled.

Are There Any Other Factors In Determining Child Support?

This list is not exhaustive. Family law courts are also designated “courts of equity,” which means they can and do take into consideration all relevant facts and circumstances in determining the most just and fair outcome of the case.

Other factors often taken into consideration include:

  • Support obligations for children from other relationships;
  • Retirement contributions; and
  • Required traveling for visitations with the child.

It is also important to note that there are limits on how often child support determinations can be re-figured. This is because allowing parents to request a child support modification at any time and as often as they like would result in an overload of cases for the court to review. The time limit varies by state, but is usually a few years. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that a child support arrangement is done right the first time.

Do I Need an Attorney While Trying to Determine Child Support?

Child support calculations can get very complicated and they go hand-in-hand with child custody determinations. A parent’s ability to maintain a relationship with their child is often one of the most important matters that will ever be decided within their lifetime. As such, most parents choose to be represented by a family law attorney when determining child support and child custody.

However, a parent who has trouble paying for legal representation can seek out legal help for advice and to ensure the best outcome.