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How is child support determined

December 31, 2016 Blog

Separation or divorce in a family can be a difficult time for the adults and the children. Difficult decisions must be made such as child support decisions. Below is a brief explanation of how child support is determined.

Factors to help determine child support

There are several determining factors the judge will take into consideration when deciding the amount of child support a parent will pay. The decisions are based upon each state’s guidelines. Most states take a percentage of the couple’s combined income when determining an amount. Some states base this off of gross income and some off of net.

If the parent who will be paying support is already paying support from other children from a previous marriage, this will be taken into consideration. For this to happen, the payments must be court-ordered, and the parent must be paying them.

Childcare and healthcare expenses are also a factor in the decision. Most states will take into consideration the amount a parent spends on childcare so they can work. Some states will adjust this amount for tax purposes, as well. The judge will determine who will pay for the child’s healthcare and specify this in the court order. Most states also add extra support for other medical expenses not covered by insurance. If the child isn’t covered by healthcare insurance, the order will probably have an extra amount added to the order to cover any medical expenses the child may incur.

Other expenses that may be a factor

There may also be other expenses that can factor in to child support. For instance, if the child is a special needs child, there can be extra expenses. If a parent or child has to travel for the visitation, this can be included. Travel expenses are normally split between the parents.

A cost of living adjustment, or COLA, may be added from time to time to the order. This is an adjustment to the child support due to a rise in living expenses. This may also be adjusted due to a decrease such as the parent having a decrease in income from work. Either parent may dispute this if they send a written objection to the court within 35 days after the adjusted amount is mailed. That parent must also provide a copy to the other parent and to the support collection unit. If a parent is on public assistance, the COLA will be automatically adjusted.

Different states formulas and models

Each state uses it’s own model as a base for child support determination. For example, in using the income shares model, the court uses the income of both parents and the number of children involved. With the percentage of income model, the court takes a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children the parent supports. They may use either the parent’s gross or net income, depending on the state they live in. Some are flat states meaning the percentage of income doesn’t change even if the parent’s income does. With varying states, the percentage adjusts with the parent’s income.

With the Melson formula, the court uses many factors to make their determination. For example, they take into consideration the child’s cost of living increases and the child’s needs. This model allows for more income when needed. The court may deviate from the state’s model if they feel it necessary.


Divorce and custody battles can be difficult for families to deal with. Decisions will be made such as visitation, shared custody and child support. Many factors go into making these decisions. If you are in this situation, give us a call, and let us guide you through. Our attorneys understand the law and will work hard to get the best outcome for you and your child.



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