How Is Child Support Calculated?

The courts look at many factors when determining the amount of child support the noncustodial parent pays to the custodial parent. The guidelines can be very different depending on the state in which you live. In some states, the court abides by set guidelines, while the judge’s ruling can be more subjective as long as the guidelines set by the state are somewhat followed.

Working with a family law attorney to represent your rights is an essential part of the custody support process to ensure that the child’s best interest is put above anything else.

Court Criteria for Determining the Amount of Child Support

The following guidelines apply in most states and are used in deciding who pays child support and how much.

  • Education, health insurance, everyday needs of the child
  • Needs and income of the custodial parent
  • How much the parent that is paying can afford
  • The standard of living the child experienced prior to the separation or divorce

Many courts will ask each divorcing parent to complete a financial statement that shows details of the parent’s financial situation prior to deciding on the amount of support for the child. In this statement, the parent must list all their monthly expenses and income.

If possible, the court will try to maintain the standard of living enjoyed by the child prior to the divorce. The court is aware, however, that this may not always be possible when trying to maintain two homes or households on income that previously sustained one home. 

What Expenses Affect the Parent’s Ability to Provide Child Support?

The court looks at all sources of income minus deductions such as social security, state and federal income taxes, health care premium contributions and any union dues. What remains is the net income of the party responsible for paying child support.

Actual Earnings vs. Ability to Earn

If there is a difference between what the parent is not earning what the court feels they could be earning according to their ability or experience, the judge may raise the amount of child support. The actual earnings are not the only criteria that determine someone’s earning power, the judge also looks at how the individual could have a higher income if they were so inclined.

The court looks at situations where the person responsible for paying child support:

  • Takes a job that pays less but is more personally satisfying
  • Quits their current job in order to enroll in law or medical school
  • Accepts a position that pays less but has opportunities for advancement and better pay 

These are good examples when a judge would look at the previous earnings rather than the potential earnings when considering the amount of child support. The reasoning behind this is the child should be able to sustain the same quality of life regardless of the job choices of the parent.

Cost of Living Raises in Child Support

A COLA or (Cost of Living Allowance) is a clause usually included in the child support order that will automatically adjust the amount of support in accordance with an economic indicator, usually the Consumer Price Index. If this clause is in place, there is no need to ask the court for an annual increase in child support.

Contact an Attorney
For any questions or concerns about the amount of child support you are paying or receiving, contact an attorney, like a family attorney from The McKinney Law Group, who has experience in child support issues.