How Much Child Support Will You Pay?
Every child has a legal right to be financially supported by both parents. This obligation applies even if the parents were never married or one parent does not take an active role in raising the child. When parents have ended a relationship and do not live together, one parent may be order to pay child support to the other parent. Typically, the parent who has primary physical custody of a child (the parent responsible for most aspects of the child's day-to-day care and welfare) receives child support from the non-custodial parent. Legal guidelines in each state help establish the amount of child support that must be paid by one parent to the other. This article provides a basic overview of child support law to help give you an idea of how much support you may have to pay in your case.
Child Support: State Guidelines
Specific child support guidelines vary from state to state, but they are all generally based on the parents' incomes, living expenses, and the needs of the children. Often, the guidelines calculate the amount of child support as a percentage of the paying parent's income that increases with the number of children being supported. In some instances, the child support award can vary from the guidelines, if there are very good reasons.
Judges will often review a financial statement completed by each parent that lists all sources and amounts of income and expense before reaching a final figure for child support payments. This worksheet can help parents gather important information regarding their financial situations. Online child support calculators offer an estimate of what parents may pay in child support, but you are cautioned not to rely on these calculators. Judges make the final determination of support and may interpret facts differently than parents, even if they use the same formula as the online calculator.
Child Support: Determining Parents' Income
Regardless of the state, a final child support award based on the guidelines is "income driven." That means it is determined primarily by the income of the parties. It is therefore crucial that parents understand what funds can be considered "income" under the child support guidelines and which are excluded from that definition.
Generally, when determining parents’ income for the purpose of child support, courts look not only at salary and wages but also other sources of money, including the following:
- Government benefits;
- Gifts and prizes;
- Annuities; and
- Disbursements from trusts or estates.
Child Support: Additional Considerations
State guidelines and income determinations are critical to setting child support amounts, but they are not the only considerations that factor into the decision. Depending on the state and the unique circumstances of the case, a judge may evaluate other factors and order a child support amount that differs from the guidelines if would be fair to the parents and in the best interests of the child. Some additional issues that may affect the amount of child support include the following:
- Joint custody or split custody situations;
- Payment of support during summer vacation; and
- College Expenses.
For more general information about establishing child support orders and calculating child support amounts, check out this FAQ. If you need legal advice specific to your situation or help opening a child support case, consider contacting a family law attorney.