How Much Child Support Can You Receive?

So, how much child support can you receive? Well, it depends. Read on for information that gives you a general idea of how states calculate child support and insight into how much support you can expect.

Not everyone is entitled to receive child support. However, the courts generally award support to one parent during a divorce or a legal separation. They may award support even when parents are not ever married. In most cases, the non-custodial parent makes child support payments to the parent with physical custody of the child. After the court determines your eligibility, they calculate the child support amount. The judge uses standards unique to your state's child support laws.

Factors Considered When Calculating Child Support

Every state has its child support regulations and guidelines. Each family court judge or commissioner will have their methods and interpretations of these child support guidelines. You can use a child support calculator to gauge the amount of child support you can receive in your child support case. You input your gross income, net income, and the number of children to use in the calculation. The guideline calculator is similar to the court's worksheet to set the basic child support obligation.

When calculating child support, most states consider the following:

  • The custody arrangement and the amount of time the child spends with each parent (parenting time)
  • The financial needs of the child, including education, daycare/child care, medical expenses (health care/health insurance), and any special needs
  • The income and ability of the parent to provide financial support
  • The child's standard of living before any separation or divorce

There is no universal formula for factoring the amount of time that the parent spends with their child. Each state uses parenting time in a different way to calculate child support. State courts use different calculation methods depending on the nature of the custody arrangement. So, this process can be complicated. In Ohio, the State formula provides an automatic 10% decrease in the support amount if the paying parent has 90 or more overnights of parenting time in a year. If the paying parent exercises substantially more than 90 overnights, the court may decrease support further.

Your state may consider additional criteria. For example, California court orders also consider the costs of parents' union dues and retirement contributions. Travel for visitation is another consideration.

Determining Parents' Income and Ability to Pay

The court often factors the number of children into the calculation, so the paying parent will contribute more for each additional child.

In Alaska, the state uses a "percentage of income" model. Here is an example from the Alaska Court System for a primary custody arrangement. The focus is on the income of the non-custodial parent. To figure out how much the noncustodial parent pays, you multiply their income by 20% for one child. Use 27% for two children and 33% for three children. For instance, say the father earns $20,000. The mother multiplies $20,000 by .27 because they have 2 kids. The father pays the mother $5,400 annually.

In Maryland, the state uses an "income shares" model. Maryland provides an online calculator, as do many other states. You can use the Maryland Department of Human Resources spreadsheet. You enter income and custody information. The spreadsheet will automatically calculate the probable total child support.

Courts determine child support payments primarily by the parents' incomes. Courts carefully consider every potential source of income from both parents. This is regardless of the final custody arrangement. Remember that income is not just salary and wages. It also includes self-employment earnings, Social Security benefits, worker's compensation, and alimony/spousal support. You should make a detailed list of all your sources of income and expenses.

You might need clarification on whether the court's calculation uses a particular income source. Check your specific state laws and consult with your attorney for legal advice. If you can't afford an attorney, look for the legal aid office in your county. Or contact your state's public assistance department. All states have a child support enforcement (CSE) division and a local child support agency office for your state's division is likely in your county. Generally, they provide free child support services.

State Models for Child Support Calculations

States have three different models for calculating child support. Here are the child support models:

  • Income Shares Model: This is the most common model. The court determines how much of the parents' combined income a child needs. This plays out differently in each state because they use different formulas under the model. For example, under Massachusetts law, they calculate the support twice. Both calculations assume that the parent is the custodial parent. The parent with the higher income pays the difference between the two calculations to the other parent. Maryland also uses this model but with a different formula. The Maryland Department of Human Resources provides a spreadsheet that automatically calculates the probable child support when you enter income and custody information.
  • Percentage of Income Model: In this model, the court sets child support based on a percentage of the non-custodial parent's income only. They don't use the custodial parent's income at all. Alaska follows a version of this model. Here is an example to show what the non-custodial parent would pay. Your co-parent makes $2,000 a month from various sources. The court does not factor in your income. The judge orders a flat percentage of 25% of their income to go to you for child support. This means that you collect $500 a month.
  • Melson Formula Model: This model is a more complicated version of the Income Shares Model. However, the main difference is that it considers parents' needs in addition to the child's needs. And the model provides parents with more support if one or both parents' income increases. Here's how it works in Montana. Montana combines the parents' income to get the total amount available for child support. Then divides each parent's income by the total to get each parent's share of the child's support. Then multiply the parent's personal allowance by a number based on the number of children in the child support order.

Enforcement of Child Support Awards

The federal government has made efforts to help parents collect child support. Lawmakers passed The Child Support Recovery Act of 1992 and the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act of 1998. However, if you need help enforcing a child support order, you must look locally. When the child support obligor works for a W-2 company, their employer withholds child support through wage garnishment or an income withholding order. When the child support obligor is self-employed, there is no wage withholding order.

Unfortunately, the obligor parent doesn't always pay court-awarded child support on time. Sometimes it isn't paid at all. The obligor may try to avoid their legal responsibility. You can get assistance from your local child support enforcement agency. The office of child support enforcement near you can use various enforcement actions when a parent hasn't paid child support. Some of the things that they can do include the following:

  • Suspend driver's licenses
  • Suspend occupational/professional licenses
  • Deny passports
  • Place liens on property
  • Seize funds in bank accounts
  • Intercept income tax refunds

The obligor parent may also be subject to contempt of court charges. They could also face criminal non-support charges in some extreme cases.

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

So many factors influence child support determinations. As a result, you may need clarification as you navigate your concerns around this issue. In arguing for a fair award, it's best to contact an experienced child support attorney who understands child support calculations and can advocate on your behalf.

Was this helpful?

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.

Find a local attorney

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.

Start Planning