Child Support Amounts

State law sets the amount of child support that noncustodial parents pay to custodial parents. States follow similar child support guidelines, but there are differences. 

Some states give their judges a lot of leeway in setting the actual amount, as long as they follow general state child support guidelines. Others have strict guidelines that leave the judges with little discretion.

The judge considers the needs of the child. These needs include:

  • Health care/health insurance
  • Education
  • Daycare/childcare costs
  • Special needs like medication or specialized medical care and equipment

The court also weighs the needs of the custodial parent. However, the paying parent's ability to provide can also come into play.

Child Support Calculations

All states have uniform guidelines for calculating child support. The calculations vary from state to state, but commonalities are everywhere. Many begin with the parent's income and don't go beyond that. Some other states use very complex formulas to arrive at the guideline amount. A parent can use a child support worksheet or calculator to estimate the child support payment. However, the judge uses the formula when calculating child support as part of a family court case, such as a divorce proceeding. In general, states consider the following:

  • The number of children that need support
  • The children's financial needs (daycare, health insurance, special needs)
  • The income of the parents and the needs and financial resources of the parent with physical custody
  • The amount of time the children spend with their parent, including overnight stays
  • The ability of the paying parent to pay
  • The standard of living before the parents separated

Income and Support Orders

When establishing a child support order, a judge generally must follow specific state guidelines. Those guidelines are "income-driven." Parents give their financial information, including monthly income, to the court. It's important for parents to understand what funds are considered "income" under the child support guidelines.

The court looks at your gross income. This is your salary or self-employment income, and any benefits you receive like disability, unemployment, or Social Security. It also includes any spousal support/alimony from a prior relationship. The court then takes your gross income minus any deductions, like income taxes and Social Security, health insurance premium costs, and union dues. The court comes up with the net income once they figure this out.

Child Support and Trust Income

Sometimes, people will make estate planning decisions that result in fictional income. This income is reported to the Internal Revenue Service as income but is not received. For example, a mother's parents gifted her certain property in trust, which generated income. Then the income was put back into the trust. Because she could not reach the trust, the court considers "income" as phantom income that can't be considered for child support.

Child Support and College Expenses

College expenses are a form of child support. This means that they are subject to enforcement, modification, and termination. Most college students are not self-supporting. Your basic child support obligation to pay for educational expenses officially ends when your child is emancipated or earns a degree.

The court will probably reduce the amount of support you have to pay if your college student is living at school. In this case, the primary parent isn't necessarily incurring the cost of room and board, which is usually included in college costs.

Talk to an Experienced Child Support Attorney

If your child needs support, you want to make sure they get the correct amount. You can talk to a family law attorney. You can get assistance if you're concerned about reaching an agreement with your co-parent or modifying a child support order. They can also help determine eligibility requirements. Contact a child support attorney to get started.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

Get tailored advice about paying or receiving child support. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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