Child Support Laws by State

An initial question surrounds the amount of child support that you or the co-parent will pay. Many of the answers to the questions depend on the state where the parties live. Each state has a different child support law, and ways to collect child support from the parent ordered to pay (also known as the obligor) if any amount is past due.

If you're not with your child's other parent, child support is one of the first things to consider. 

How Do States Calculate Child Support?

State laws have different formulas to calculate child support. Child support is formulated at the state level, but some federal guidelines exist under the Child Support Enforcement Act. Each state uses its own child support guidelines. Because each state sets up its own child support system, there is considerable variation between states in how they calculate child support. But, most states look at the following criteria at a minimum based on several factors including:

  • Financial needs of the child — education, daycare/child care, medical expenses (health insurance/health care)
  • Needs of the parent with custody of the child
  • The income and ability to pay of the parent who is paying child support (obligor)
  • The child's standard of living before any separation or divorce
  • The income of both parents (gross income, net income)

The state's formulas come from different models to calculate the child support amount. “Income" is the key component and typically includes consideration of the income of both parents. Here are the models:

  • Income Shares Model: Based on idea that children should receive the same proportion of parental income that they would have if the parents had not divorced or separated. (41 states, including Illinois, Florida, and Maryland)
  • Melson Formula Model: Complex version of "income shares model." Uses parent's self-support needs and standard of living allowance. (three states: Delaware, Montana, and Hawaii.)
  • Percentage of Income Model: Support comes from a percentage of the noncustodial parent's income regardless of the custodial parent's income. (six states, including AlaskaWisconsin, and Texas)

Where Do I Apply for Help in Obtaining Child Support?

You can apply through the local, state, or tribal child support services office. The federal government applies federal regulations to the state offices. But, there is no federal enforcement. Usually, applying to your local child support agency is most effective. But, you have the right to apply to another tribunal if that will result in more efficient service. The contact information for state child support agencies is online. Depending on your situation, the child support agency can help with steps to take before you get a court order for child support, including asking the court to establish parentage.

Child Support Modification

Once a child support order or agreement is in place, the amount of support may be increased or decreased under certain circumstances. If a parent's earning ability or a child's financial needs have changed, that could be enough to trigger a modification and re-open a child support case. The specific laws vary by state. However, the general rule is that the parent must show a “substantial change" in circumstances to qualify for a modification and a new child support order.

Parents Living in Different States

When parents or guardians live in different states, you can open a child support case in a local child support agency where one parent lives. The local child support agency will enforce the child support order or ask the other state or county for help. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act is a federal law that tells us how to make and enforce child support obligations when both parents do not live in the same county or state. Federal law requires different states to cooperate to establish and enforce child support orders. For example, North Carolina must recognize orders from Arkansas and vice versa.

The Noncustodial Parent Lives Across the State. How Can I Get Enforcement of my Child Support?

Most local offices of child support enforcement handle enforcement in different jurisdictions of the same state. That way, you don't have to travel outside your own jurisdiction. For example, you live in Newark, New Jersey, and your ex lives in Camden, New Jersey. You can ask the office of child support enforcement where you live for help with getting past-due support. They can provide details about how enforcement would work in your case. That may include filing for contempt of court or a lien on the obligor's tax refunds. In many states, a request can be made for income withholding to pay the child support obligation directly out of the obligor's paycheck.

A Child Support Lawyer Can Help

Are you a Pennsylvania native? Do you consider yourself a Georgia peach? Does your ex call Indiana home? Regardless of which state law you have to deal with, child support issues are complex.

A family law attorney with experience in child support can make things easier to understand by explaining the child support laws, rules, regulations, and steps involved with enforcing or complying with child support orders and making or receiving child support payments. The family law attorney may also be familiar with the local child support enforcement office, which can help you navigate the process more smoothly.

This legal professional will also ensure that child support rights are adhered to, safeguarding children's rights to benefits and education in a public institution. Consider contacting a child support attorney in your area today.

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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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