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. Many parents have found just how difficult this is when they estimate payments using an online child support calculator only to have the judge order a vastly different amount. Below, you will find information about child support calculators and why they may not be as accurate as many parents assume.
What Is a Child Support Calculator?
Every state offers some way for parents to estimate child support payments. This tool may be a downloadable worksheet similar to many tax forms, or it may an online calculator that automatically estimates child support payments based on financial information you provide. A child support calculator will often request information such as the monthly salaries of you and 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 you enter this information, the child support calculator estimates how much you or the other parent should owe in monthly child support payments.
Why Can't I Rely on the Calculator's Estimate?
A child support calculator is a good way to get a ballpark estimate of how much your child support payment might be, but it does not determine your actual amount. Judges are usually required to calculate child support based on state-specific statutory formulas. Using these laws and rules, judges may calculate child support differently by interpreting your situation differently than you do. For example, you may have assumed that your child will spend 40 percent of his or her time with you, but a judge might find that the actual time is closer to 50 percent. This could change the ultimate calculation, even if the judge uses the same formula as the calculator.
Many external factors can also affect the ultimate child support determination. Additional expenses such as emergency costs, daycare expenses, private school tuition, specialized healthcare, or other costs aren't likely to be taken into consideration by a child support calculator. A judge, on the other hand, has the power to incorporate these additional costs into a child support calculation. Additionally, future orders and changed circumstances can modify child support payments, such as when a parent is laid off or a child reaches a certain age.
Finally, some states have admitted that their child support calculators are flawed. For example, the State of California issued an alert stating that its online child support calculator was inaccurate for a period in 2008. Just because a state provides a calculator does not mean the calculator has properly incorporated all of the state's many child support-related laws into its estimates.
The Child Support Calculator's Estimate is Too Low or Too High. Can the Other Parent and I Agree on an Amount?
Most states allow parents to come up with their own custody plans determining who has what type of custody and the percentage of time the child will spend at each parent's respective house. Regardless of what the calculator estimates, many parents choose to negotiate a reasonable amount of child support between themselves and incorporate this amount into the plan. 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.
If I Can't Trust the Calculator, How Can I Ensure That My Child Support Order Is Fair?
Rather than relying on child support calculators that fail to take into consideration all of your individual circumstances, the best way to protect your child support rights is to consult a child support lawyer. Consulting with a lawyer can help you determine a fair child support amount within the bounds of the law that is more likely to be approved by a judge. Additionally, a mediation lawyer can help bring you and the other parent together to work out a plan.
Discuss Your Questions About Child Support Calculators with an Attorney
A child support order will impact your financial life for years to come, regardless of whether you are claiming child support or someone is seeking child support from you. It can be very helpful to discuss your child support issues with a local child support lawyer who can help ensure that the court's decision is fair and give you personalized legal advice.