How Much Is Child Support?

Your total income and the income of the other parent calculate child support. The combined income is added up, certain costs are deducted, and then a percentage is calculated.

Your percentage can depend on which parent makes more money and the level of child custody that you have. And also the amount of time that you spend with your child, including overnights and other parenting time. This percentage is what you will have to pay. States have individual laws on what is deductible and how high the percentage is. This article provides a basic overview of child support law to help give you an idea of how much child support you will pay.

Why Child Support Exists

Every child has a legal right to be financially supported by both parents. This is true whether the parents were ever married. Or if one parent doesn't take an active role in raising the child. Children should not be deprived just because they don't live in the other parent's household. The parent who has primary physical custody of a child receives child support. The non-custodial parent pays the support. This is the situation in most cases.

But what is the basic child support obligation? Legal guidelines in each state help establish the amount of child support that one parent must pay to the other.

How Much Is Child Support: State Child Support Guidelines

Specific child support guidelines vary from state to state, but they are all generally based on the parents' incomes, living expenses, and the needs of the children. Every state uses a child support guideline model. The “income shares" model is the most common. Often, the guidelines calculate the amount of child support as a percentage of a parent's income that increases with the number of children being supported. In some limited situations, the monthly child support obligation can vary from the guidelines, if there are good reasons. This is called a deviation.

Before a family law judge issues a court order for child support, they will often review a financial statement completed by each parent. The statement lists all sources and amounts of income and all expenses to assist the court in determining a final figure for the child support order. This worksheet can help parents gather important information regarding their financial situations. You can figure out your gross income. And then your net income after you subtract items from the gross.

Online child support calculators offer an estimate of what parents may pay in child support, but you are cautioned not to rely on these calculators. The guidelines calculator has a disclaimer that spells this out. Remember that the calculator may not include some important factors. For instance, the costs of medical expenses like health care and health insurance may not be included. Likewise, the costs for daycare or childcare may not be present. However, a judge can consider those factors. Judges make the final determination of support and may interpret facts differently than parents, even if they use the same formula as the online calculator.

Calculating Child Support: Determining Parents' Income

Regardless of the state, a final child support award based on the guidelines is "income driven." That means how much child support you will pay is determined primarily by the monthly income of both parties. As such, it's crucial that parents understand what funds can and cannot be considered "income" under the child support guideline.

Generally, when determining parents' income for the purpose of child support, courts look not only at salary and wages but also other sources of money. Your gross income can include the following:

  • Government benefits (Social Security, worker's compensation, unemployment)
  • Pensions
  • Gifts and prizes
  • Annuities
  • Disbursements from trusts or estates
  • Spousal support/alimony

College Expenses and Other Child Support Considerations

State guidelines and income determinations are critical to setting child support amounts, but they are not the only considerations that factor into the decision. Depending on the state and the unique circumstances of the case, a judge may evaluate other factors and order an amount of child support that differs from the guidelines if doing so would be fair to the parents and in the best interests of the child.

Some additional issues that may affect the amount of support include the following:

How Much Is Child Support for You? Find Out With an Attorney's Help

Calculating child support payments is tricky. Parents, whether or not they have physical custody of their child/children, want to make sure their kids are taken care of. But you don't want to go broke in the process. It may help to get sound legal advice. Let a child support attorney licensed in your state help you determine what's best for your children while keeping in mind your own financial needs.

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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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