How Much Child Support Can You Receive?

Not everyone is entitled to child support, but most custodial parents are eligible to receive some amount of support from the non-custodial parent. Typically, child support (and custody) proceedings may commence after a separation even if the divorce is not yet finalized. Once the court determines you're eligible, it will calculate the appropriate amount of child support using state criteria.

So how much child support can you receive? Well, it depends. The following information will give you a general idea of how it's calculated, although state guidelines may differ.

Factors Considered When Calculating Child Support

Each state has its own child support regulations and guidelines. Also, keep in mind that each judge or commissioner will have his or her own methods and interpretations of these guidelines. If you can't afford an attorney, look for the legal aid office in your county of residence or contact your state's public assistance department.

When calculating child support, most states consider the following:

  • The custody arrangement, and how much time the child spends with each parent;
  • Financial needs of the child, including education, day care, insurance, and any special needs;
  • Income and ability of the parent to pay child support; and
  • Child's standard of living before any separation or divorce.

However, your state may consider additional criteria. For example, in California the courts also consider the costs of parents' union dues, retirement contributions, and travel for visitation.

Determining Parents' Income and Ability to Pay

Child support payments are determined primarily by the parents' incomes. Courts carefully consider every potential source of income from both parents, regardless of the final custody arrangement. You should make a detailed list of all of your sources of income and expenses; and if you're unsure whether a particular source will be included in the court's calculation, check your specific state laws and consult with your attorney.

Additionally, the court often factors the number of children into the calculation, so the parent paying child support will pay more for each additional child. For instance, the Alaska Court System has posted an example of how these calculations are made.

Multiplying the Income by the Total Amount of Custody Time

Once a court has determined the income of both parents, it multiplies the amount of custody time the child spends with a parent by how much the parties earn. State courts use different calculation methods depending upon the nature of the custody arrangement, so this process can be quite complicated.

The Maryland Department of Human Resources, for example, provides a spreadsheet that automatically calculates the probable total child support when income and custody information are entered.

Enforcement of the Child Support Award

Unfortunately, court-awarded child support is not always paid on time, and sometimes isn’t paid at all. If you need a child support order enforced, you can contact the National Child Support Enforcement Association or the office of child support enforcement in your state. The enforcement of child support orders may include wage garnishment or other such measures.

The federal government pursues the most chronic and egregious child support evaders under the Child Support Recovery Act (1992) and the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act (1998). Under these laws, it's illegal for a parent owing court-ordered child support to willfully fail to pay, and offenders can be convicted of a felony and face fines and imprisonment.

How Much Child Support Can You Receive? Talk to a Lawyer

As you can see, there are many factors that go into child support determinations, which are made at the discretion of the court. Because there are many factors considered, you actually could have several different ways to argue for a fair award. It's best to contact an experienced child support attorney who understands how child support is determined and can advocate on your behalf.

Next Steps

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

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution