When parents divorce, they should be aware of their child support rights. Child support payments help custodial parents maintain a certain quality of life for their children. Parents use this money to purchase food, clothing, school supplies, medical care, and other items to help their children live happy, healthy lives. Parents going through the divorce process often wonder how much child support they will receive.
Child Support Guideline Formulas
The Federal Child Support Enforcement Act includes guidelines for child support formulas in each state. The amount of support ordered in one state may be very different from that ordered in another. A lawyer for child support cases can explain the formula applicable to the state and will help a client ensure that he or she is getting the correct child support entitlement based on the situation.
Each state uses it’s own version of a child support formula to determine whether one parent should pay some amount of child support to the other parent. And there are situations in every state that allow a judge to move that amount up or down (called an ‘upward deviation’ or a ‘downward deviation’). Ordinarily, the parent with the majority of parenting time will be the parent that gets child support. When parents split parenting time equally (50/50), many states do not impose any child support calculation unless there are special circumstances such as a large income disparity between the parents or a special needs child type situation. A large disparity in income would be one parent earning $50,000/year and another parent earning $150,000 or more per year (although it could be lower than this or much higher – there isn’t a rule). The reason for this is to get the child’s living arrangements somewhat similar, even in a 50/50 shared custody type situation. But, for the most part, child support is ordered to be paid to the parent that has a larger share of parenting time (sometimes specifically overnight parenting time even).
Different Child Support Formulas
There are 3-main types of child support formulas used, depending on the state in which a person lives:
- Percentage of Income Formula;
- Melson Formula; or
- Income Shares Model.
Percentage of Income Formula
When a state uses the ‘Percentage of Income’ formula for calculating child support, the court will normally take a percentage of the child support payor’s net income and times it by a percentage. For example, a state might make their percentage guideline support amount be 20% for 1-child, 28% for 2-kids, 32% for 3-kids, and 40% for 4-kids. Keep in mind that a person’s net income is NOT the same as what is on a persons tax returns, especially if that person is self employed or is part owner of a business. The net formula calculation takes into account different ‘write-offs’ than the IRS does for factoring tax amounts owed. Because of this, a child support attorney is needed even though it looks relatively simple at first glance.
When a state uses the ‘Melson Formula’ for calculating child support, the court has a lot of work to do. This is because the Melson Formula is the most complex way of calculating child support. Only a few states follow this method of child support calculation, primarily because of its complexity. The Melson Formula takes into account one-factor that no other formula uses: the noncustodial parents basic financial needs. No other child support formula takes this into account absent a judges discretion in extreme cases. The Melson Formula takes into account a formula to determine how much money it would take to financially support a child if the parents were together and not split up or divorced. This amount is based off the combination of both parties income. The formula then adjusts depending on each parents percentage of that combined income and the standard of living of each parent and the percentage of parenting time each parent has with the child. Finally, the Melson Formula ensures that each parent can meet their own basic needs (by factoring in reasonable bills, child-related expenses, etc.).
Income Shares Model
When a state uses the ‘Income Shares Model’ for calculating child support, it uses a formula that is similar to the Melson formula only without the extremely complicated factor of determining each parents own basic needs to pay their own living expenses. The vast majority of states use the Income Shares Model of child support. The Income Shares Model of child support combines both parents incomes into one number and then uses a formula to determine ow much financial support is needed for each child. That amount is then allocated to each parent based on each parents percentage of the combined income. For example: if dad earns $40,000/year, mom earns $60,000/year, the combined income amount is $100,000/year. The percentages are 40% dad and 60% mom. So, when the calculation is completed, a portion of the 40% or 60% will be used, depending on which parent is the custodial parent. This same percentage sometimes even determines how much of other expenses each parent should pay – such as medical or school costs.
Factors a Court Can Also Use
A family court judge considers several things when determining the amount of child support. Parental custody and the ability of a parent to pay child support are major factors, but ability to pay only comes into play in extreme circumstances or if the Melson Formula is used. If one parent has sole custody, or the majority of parenting time, child support is typically paid only by the other parent (the noncustodial parent). However, ins some instances, if parenting time is close to equal (40+% by the noncustodial parent), and there is a very large income disparity, the noncustodial parent might owe child support to the other parent. this is because the public policy behind the whole idea of child support is that parents have an inherent duty to financially support their children. This is a rare occurrence though.
The standard of living experienced by the child prior to divorce and custodial parent needs and income are also considered in some circumstances, such as the Melson formula or again, under extreme situations (like disability of a parent or very large income differences between the parents). However, the court recognizes that it may not be possible to maintain the same standard of living once parents are separated.
Exchanging Financial Information
Regardless of which formula a state uses for calculating child support, each parent must complete a financial statement detailing expenses and income and submit it to the family court (and exchange it with each other or each other’s attorneys). This will help the court estimate monthly child support obligations using a state-specific child support calculator. The court will subtract mandatory deductions like income taxes from gross income and may add cost of living increases. If one or both parents disagree with the final support decision or experience a change in financial situation, the parents may go back to court with a request to raise or lower child support. Child support orders are never ‘permanent’, even if they are called permanent, because they can be modified whenever a substantial change in circumstances arises such as large increase or decrease in income, expenses, or the loss of a job.
Child Support Questions?
Since child support rights vary from state to state, divorcing parents should consult with a child support lawyer. Child support lawyers are highly-trained legal professional that will help determine the most suitable solution for the entire family – and you! The ideal result is the correct amount of child support being ordered that takes into account the proper deductions and child-related expenses. Because of the complexity of all the child support formulas out there, a child support attorney is often needed.