Child support is the payment that a noncustodial parent has to pay to the custodial parent for bringing up the child. According to the Census Bureau’s last available statistics, the average child support payment is $5,150/year or $430/month.
However, in real life, the average may not apply because the support payment is based on several individual factors. So, to know how much you will have to pay, or how much you will receive, it is important to understand the following:
- How is child support determined?
- How is child support apportioned between the parents?
How Is Child Support Determined?
Every state has established guidelines to calculate child support and the courts award the payment based on these guidelines. There are many online calculators available per state, and by and large, it all boils down to how much the noncustodial and custodial parents earn. The primary factors that the courts take into account to determine child support are:
1) The child’s basic needs – food, clothing, education, a safe and secure home, health care, special needs if any, etc.
2) The child’s standard of living during the marriage. The courts’ goal is to ensure that child maintains the same standard of living as he/she did during the marriage.
3) The child support-paying parent’s income and ability to pay child support. For calculating child support the courts take into consideration factors like the gross income of the paying parent, including income from investments, less income tax, health insurance, social security taxes, trade union membership dues, etc.
The following factors may also be taken into account (depending upon state laws):
- The amount of child support that any parent is receiving or paying from a previous marriage.
- Age of the child (or children).
- Whether any parent is responsible for bringing up children from his/her previous marriage.
- Which parent pays child-related expenses like health insurance, daycare, etc., and how much?
- Does any parent live with a new partner/spouse? Does the new partner/spouse share the household expenses? How much?
- How many children are being supported?
- How many overnights will the paying parent spend with the child (as per the custodial arrangement)? (Note: More overnights translate into lower child support).
If the paying parent is facing unusual circumstances and his/her child custody attorney believes that the guidelines mandated by the state may not apply, then he/she should present the circumstances (budget, documentation, professionally validated estimates, etc.) to the courts. If the courts find that the reasons are compelling, they may diverge from the guidelines.
— The child has special needs, and the calculation generated by the guidelines is insufficient.
— The noncustodial parent is very wealthy and can afford to pay much more.
— The noncustodial parent cannot afford to pay any support.
— The amount calculated by applying the guidelines is excessive/insufficient.
In the end, the courts always decide about support payment based on the best interests of the child.
How Is Child Support Apportioned Between The Parents?
After examining all these factors and determining the child support amount, the courts use any one of the following three models/formulas to split the child support between the parents:
(a) Income Shares Model
This model states that the child should enjoy the same standard of living as he/she did during the marriage – and to make that happen, the parents should contribute the same proportion of income towards the child’s upbringing that they did during the marriage.
For example: If during the marriage the father (who is now the noncustodial parent) earned $8,000/month and the mother earned $5,000/month, then the total income worked out to $13,000/month. In terms of percentages, the father contributed 61.5% of the total household income and the mother contributed 38.5%. So, if the courts determine that the child’s expenses to meet the basic needs are $1,000/month, the father would be required to pay $615/month (61.5%) as child support to the mother, and the mother would be required to bear the balance $385/month (38.5%).
(b) The Melson Formula
This is a complicated version of the “Income Shares” formula, which factors in policy judgments to make certain that the support-paying parent’s basic needs are taken care of along with the child’s.
(c) Percentage of Income Model
In this model, only the noncustodial parent’s income is taken into account. Then, he is ordered to pay a certain percentage of his/her income as child support. The percentage of income depends on the state’s statutes.
Let us take an example wherein the father is the noncustodial parent and he makes $60,000/year ($5,000/month). Assume the child support determined by the courts is $1,000/month. If the state laws say that the noncustodial parent has to pay 17% of his/her income, then the father’s share works up to $10,200/year, or $850/month. Therefore, under the “percentage of income” model, the father has to pay $850/month towards child support, while the mother contributes $150/month.