Calculating Child Support

Aug 8, 2012 by

Divorce is difficult, often involving anger and confusion; a major issue in divorce is child support. Access to information empowers individuals with understanding of important changes in their lives. Each state determines procedures for calculating child support; therefore, a parent seeking to establish or modify a child support order must research the particular state’s rules.

To facilitate the child support process most states utilize a formula or “calculator,” using information provided to obtain a guideline amount. This can be modified by the judge, who has discretion in making the order. Parents are required to provide the court with proof of income; generally, the guideline amount will be based on the parents’ respective income, expenses, and percentage of time with custody of the children, and formulas are a good baseline. Expediting and simplifying the child support process; discretionary factors include the children’s and custodial parent’s income and needs and the non-custodial parent’s ability to pay.

Because the calculation is affected by income reported and documented by tax and other legal documents, inequity can exist when one party is paid in cash not reported for taxes. If the non-custodial parent has been employed in a higher income job, but at the time of the order works decreased hours or at a different, lower paying job, the judge may base the order on the individual’s ability to pay rather than income reported.

Discretion is important to fairness, and using factors beyond a formulaic calculation, the court make the order. Support can be collected in several ways, including an agreement between the parties or through a private attorney (at significant cost). Each state has a Department of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE), with enforcement at no cost to either party. The DCSE is a good resource; when there is a wage garnishment or other legal action for enforcement the state often has access to resources unavailable to the custodial parent.

The American Bar Association is another resource for the public, providing information and referral on child support (, with state referrals available. The federal Administration for Children and Families – The Office of Child Support Enforcement, (202) 401-9373 ( also links to each state’s Office of Child Support Enforcement. Lawyer referral services through the ABA or state Bar Association assist in locating an experienced attorney. The most valuable thing an individual can do is obtain information – the internet is a great place to start.


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