When adults have children, they become legally obligated to financially support them until the age of majority, which is usually 18.  Therefore, divorced parents with children under age 18 will almost always owe some amount of child support. States, like California for instance, may provide a government website with a Child Support Calculator. Alternatively, a parent can go in person to the local courthouse to get free help from a “family law facilitator” regarding the factors used in determining child support amounts.

What Are the Main Factors in Calculating Child Support?

The calculation of child support depends on numerous factors.  Perhaps the most important is how much money the parents earn.

Income of Both Parents: The  income of both parents are taken into consideration.  Also, the amount a parent is able to earn is considered – that is, if a doctor in his 40s is lying on the beach all day instead of working, she or he may still owe child support even with no income.  A related factor is how much other income each parent receives.  For example, parents may earn interest or other investment income.

Income and needs of Custodial Parent: The parent that has custody of the parent requires more support since they have main custody of the child and will incur more expenses to take care of the child. If the custodial parent makes less money than the non-custodial parent, they will receive a much more larger child custody payment to cover the expenses needed.

Family structure – that is, how many children are involved.  Obviously, more kids means more money (a truism every parent can attest to). There is the factor of how much time each parent spends with their children – in this case, more time spent with kids usually means less money owed to the other parent for child support.

Age and status of the child:  Depending on the state and the child support agreement, the child support may end at some point in the child’s life. Some states and agreements will allow the parents to cut off support when the child reaches the age of majority. Others will require that the children graduate from college or that the children become married before the support can be terminated.

Child’s Standard of Living Before Divorce or Separation: The courts also look at the needs and standard of living for the child before the divorce. The courts main intent is to ensure that the child receives the same type of living after the divorce and the separation does not impact the child in a major way.

The Parent’s Ability to Pay: The court ensures that the child support payments are fair and proportional to the parent’s income. If the paying parent cannot afford to pay the child support, the court allows the parent to modify the child support payment.

Needs of the Child: The main factor that is determined is the need and expenses of the child to live a standard life. This includes the child’ health insurance, education expenses, day care, food, rent, and special needs.

Note that step children are not counted in some states for purposes of child support as those states do not recognize the stepparents as being legal guardians for those children. If there is no legal obligation then there is no child support.

What Other Factors Are There In Determining Child Support?

This list is not exhaustive. Family law courts are 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.  They are charged primarily with looking out for the best interests of the child.
Other factors include:

  • Tax filing status of each parent
  • Support of children from other relationships
  • Health insurances expenses
  • Union dues
  • Retirement contributions
  • Traveling to visit kids

How Does the Court Determine the Child Support Payments?

The courts often require each parent to fill out a financial statement to provide a complete overview of the parent;s income and expense. Then the court looks at both parent’s income and determines the situations that each parent is in before making the decision on the child support payments. In the financial statement, each parent has a duty to provide all the detail of his or her monthly income and expenses.

Once the court sets out the child support payments, it always takes into factor the pre-divorce standard of living and attempts to continue this standard of living for the child.

Do I Need An Attorney To Obtain or Modify Child Support?

Unless both parents agree on a child support amount, you will need to go into court to establish or modify child support. The court procedure for establishing or modifying child support can be very confusing, so it may be wise to consult with an experienced child support attorney to make sure your interests are protected.