The amount of child support paid by noncustodial parents is determined at the state level, but some general guidelines can be applied universally. Some states allow their judges a lot of leeway in setting the actual amount, as long as the general state guidelines are followed. Others have very strict guidelines that leave the judges very little discretion. The factors usually include the needs of the child -- including health insurance, education, day care, and special needs, as well as the income and needs of the custodial parent. But the paying parent's ability to pay can also come into play. The following articles and state-specific resources cover child support guidelines, how to calculate child support amounts, and related information.
Child Support and College Expenses
Because college expenses are considered a form of child support under the law, they are subject to enforcement, modification, and termination. Typically, when a child is attending college, they are not "emancipated" -- or self-supporting. Your obligation to pay for educational expenses officially ends when the child is emancipated, or by the time your child earns a degree.
However, the amount you are required to pay when a child is attending college may likely be reduced if the child is living at school, for example. This is because the cost of college includes room and board and the parent of primary residence isn't necessarily incurring those expenses. So, the parent of alternate residence will still likely have to pay, but that amount is likely to get reduced.
Income and Support Orders
When establishing a child support order, a judge generally must follow specific state guidelines. Those guidelines are “income driven,” meaning the support amount is determined primarily by the income of the parties. Income goes beyond simple wages and salary, however, and it’s important for parents to understand what funds are considered "income" under the child support guidelines. For example, the income of a new spouse, to the extent that income directly reduces the expenses of the custodial parent, is considered income for child support purposes.
Income from a Trust and Child Support
Sometimes, people will make estate planning decisions that result in fictional income -- income that is reported to the Internal Revenue Service as income, but is not received. Tp put this in perspective, take a case out of Louisiana. A mother's parents made a gift to the mother of certain property in trust, which generated income. The income was then put back into the trust. Because the mother could not reach the trust, the court held that the "income" was phantom and could not be considered for purposes of child support.
Finding an Experienced Child Support Attorney
If you are a custodial parent and looking to get child support and need advice on determining if you are eligible and how much you can receive, you may want to speak with a family law attorney. An effective lawyer can also help you reach an agreement with your spouse and modify child support orders. The bottom line is that courts will factor the essential financial and support needs of a child, and reflect those needs in a child support order. If a child's needs change, or if there is a significant change in a parent's circumstances, however, it may be necessary for a parent to file for a modification of existing child support, or contact a child support lawyer in their area.