Child Support Calculators: Are They Accurate?

One of the most frequently asked questions in any divorce or child custody case is how much child support a non-custodial parent should pay. Unfortunately, many parents have found just how difficult it can be to estimate payments using an online child support calculator. After all, absent an agreed amount between the parents, what is ultimately owed is determined by the court after reviewing a number of factors.

Below, you'll find information about child support calculators and why they can only provide an approximation of the amount of a child support order, not an accurate figure.

What is a Child Support Calculator?

Every state offers some way for parents to estimate child support payments. This tool may be an online calculator that automatically computes child support payments based on financial information you provide. A child support calculator generally will request typical information, such as:

  • the monthly salaries of you and/or the other parent;
  • the percentage of time the child spends with you versus the amount of time with the other parent; and
  • any other benefits or tax credits you may receive.

After entering this information, the child support calculator typically uses a state-specific formula to predict how much you or the other parent should owe in monthly child support payments. The calculator usually resembles an online worksheet.

The Calculator's Result May Not Be Accurate for Your Situation

A child support calculator is a good way to get a ballpark idea of how much your child support payment might be, but it is not precise or accurate. For one thing, you may interpret your situation differently than a judge will. You may have assumed that your child will spend 25 percent of his or her time with you, but if a judge enters a different custody order, it will impact the child support order too.

Many factors can affect the ultimate child support determination. Additional expenses such as daycare costs or specialized healthcare may not be taken into consideration by a child support calculator. A judge, on the other hand, has the power to incorporate these and other factors into a child support calculation.

Judges follow the state's child support guidelines when crafting child support orders. These guidelines often tend to be highly technical, which is one reason for the popularity of child support calculators.

Parents Can Agree on a Different Amount

What if you feel that a child support calculator's figure is too low or too high, and want to arrange a different amount with the other parent? Most states allow parents to negotiate their own custody plans, and parents can also agree on a reasonable amount of child support, regardless of what the calculator predicts. However, like the child support calculator estimate, the judge has the discretion to modify this plan if he or she believes the terms are unfair or not in the best interests of the child.

Discuss Your Questions About Child Support Calculations with an Attorney

Rather than relying on child support calculators to accurately reflect your individual situation, which they cannot do, the best way to protect your child support rights is to consult a family lawyer. A local child support attorney can give you personalized legal advice and help ensure that a judge's child support order is fair.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified child support attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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