How Is Child Support Calculated?

Child support laws vary from state to state. For this reason, the calculation of child support also varies from state to state. Your family law attorney will help you with calculating the amounts you may pay or receive in your state. What follows is a broad overview of child support calculations.

Standard Models of Calculating Child Support

Most states follow, more or less closely, one of three forms of calculating child support. These are:

● Income Shares Model – This method begins with the proposition that children of a divorce should receive the same amount of parental support they would have received without the divorce. Calculations vary by state, but they essentially add both parents’ incomes together. The amount needed to support each child is then determined using certain basic assumptions and is then adjusted according to the specific state’s law and the facts of that case. Finally, the support obligation is divided pro-rata between the parents depending on their share of the total income. In other words, if a child’s custodial parent makes $4,000 a month and the noncustodial parent brings in $6,000, the noncustodial parent will be responsible for 60% of the support obligation.

● Percentage of Income Model – The percentage of income model begins its calculation of support as a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income. This calculation assumes that the custodial parent’s support will be spent entirely on the child. The support amount may be adjusted based on the state law and the underlying facts.

● Melson Formula of Child Support – This calculation system is a more complex version of the Income Shares model. One of its features is a Standard of Living Adjustment (SOLA), which automatically permits the children to participate in any increased income. Melson is a six-stage process that considers the children’s primary support needs, childcare, extraordinary medical expenses, and the SOLA. These amounts are added up, and then the court looks at each parent’s support needs and each parent’s percentage of total net income to determine the support obligation. The formula is named for Judge Elwood F. Melson, Jr. of the Delaware Family Court, who developed the formula in the 1970s and 1980s.

What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Child Support?

Like everything else relating to divorce, the consequences for not paying child support are a matter of state law. However, some basic considerations can be found in most states. First, your support order is just that – an order of the court. By not paying as ordered, you are in contempt of court and can be fined or jailed. Judges realize that incarcerated parents will not make enough money to pay their support obligations so many courts utilize other penalties. These include:

● Garnishing the non-paying parent’s wages
● Seizing any tax refunds due to the non-paying parent
● Suspending the non-paying parent’s driver’s license
● Suspending certain professional licenses of the non-paying parent
● Seizing assets of the non-paying parent

If the arrearages reach a certain level in some states, the violation is deemed a felony under state law. Overall, it is far better to seek a modification than to stop paying.

Family Law Attorney FAQs

Can I lower my child support payments without going to court?

Generally, any changes to a child support order must be approved by the court that has jurisdiction over the matter. Sometimes a judge will have entered a provision for certain minor or simple types of changes in the original order, but usually, any change will have to be justified and approved by the court.

Are there ways to avoid paying child support legally?

Yes, but not many. In some cases, you can file a petition to terminate child support. This petition may include, but is not limited to:

● Your child is no longer a minor
● Your child has passed
● The parent receiving child support has passed

Are there cases other than a divorce where child support can be imposed?

Yes, the most common such case is a paternity action. If a court determines that an individual is, in fact, the parent of a particular child, that parent may be obligated to pay child support. The parent may also receive the right to custody or visitation. Either parent can petition the court for a paternity action.