How to Calculate Child Support

Every state has its own guidelines for determining the amount of child support. All though these guidelines vary from state to state, some of them are common to all sates. The following are some commonly asked questions about the calculation of child support.

What role does custody play in child support?

Generally, the non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent to enable the custodial parent to meet day to day expenses of the child. If the court has awarded joint custody, then the support obligation will depend on the income of the parents and the time the child spends with each parent.

What is the formula for calculating child support?

Every state has its own guidelines for calculation of child support. These guidelines vary from state to state. Generally, the following will be considered when calculating child support:

• The income of the parents and their expenses
• The needs of the child including expenses for education, medical care and other necessities
• The ability to pay child support
• The child’s living standards prior to the divorce or separation (Courts understand that divorce will lower the standard of living of at least one spouse).

The parents must provide details of the finances including their monthly income and expenses to the court.

Does the court take into consideration the liabilities of the parent who has to pay child support?

Generally, the court will consider the ability to pay child support. While determining the ability to pay child support, the court will consider the net income of the parent. To arrive at the net income, the court subtracts mandatory deductions from the parent’s gross income. Mandatory deductions include payments like income tax, social security, etc. Whether or not other liabilities such as loan payments, mortgage, etc must be considered is the court’s discretion. The court will however consider existing child support obligations of the parent. It will include the existing child support obligations as part of the mandatory deductions. From the court’s point of view, payment of child support is more important than the parent’s ability to repay his or her personal debts. Courts also consider the paying parent’s essential expenses on food items, shelter and clothing.

Do the courts consider the actual earnings or the earning potential?

In many states the judge can consider the actual earnings as well as the earning potential. The objective is to prevent someone from taking a lower paying job to avoid child support obligations. For the court, the child’s needs are more important. For example if you leave a high paying job and start working from home selling stuff over the internet earning a few hundred dollars every week, the court will determine your child support obligation based on your old job. It may appear unfair but for the court, the child’s future is more important that your dreams.

Can a child support order be modified or changed?

Both parents can mutually agree to change the terms of child support but it must be approved by the court. If one parent does not agree to the changes, the parent seeking the changes must file an application in court. The court will pass the order after hearing both parents. Generally a court will modify or change the child support order only if there is a significant change in the circumstances of either parent. What is a significant change in the circumstances to warrant a change in the order will depend on the facts of the case. Generally the following are considered as significant change in the circumstances:

• Increase in income
• Change in employment
• Increase in cost of living
• Disability
• Increase in the needs of the child

The court can also allow temporary modification of the order in the following circumstances:

• Medical emergency of the child
• Loss or job or sudden illness or any other factor that causes a temporary inability on the part of the paying parent to pay
• The recipient parent suffers from a temporary hardship

What is the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause?

In some states, child support orders contain a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause. The amount of child support changes every year according to the changes in the annual cost of living which is generally calculated based on economic indicators. When a child support order has such a clause, then spouses need not go to court to have the child support payment amount changed based on changes in the cost of living.

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