How Is Child Support Calculated And What Factors Can Change It?

Under the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, child support payments are often based on each parent’s financial income at the time of the court hearing. While other factors may apply, the financial circumstances of both parents play a significant role in the amount you’ll pay.

How Child Support Payments Are Typically Calculated

Each state has adopted one of three formulas, but the income shares model is currently used in 41 out of 50 states. Here’s what the income share model looks like and how it’s calculated.

The Income Shares Model (Most States)

The income shares model acts under the assumption that the child should receive the exact same financial support as they did when both parents were together. The calculation begins with how much it costs to raise a child in your state/jurisdiction. Then the payments are split.

For example, if it costs $2500 to raise a child, then the parent that makes 70% of the income would pay $1,750 a month, while the other parent would pay the other 30% at $750 per month.

What If One Person Is Unemployed Or Underemployed, E.g., In Alabama?

In most cases, the formula for calculating child support won’t change if a parent is unemployed or under-employed without a legitimate reason. If you quit your job voluntarily (including for the purpose of making more money, i.e., education), the courts will continue your payments.

If you are unemployed for a legitimate reason (i.e., unexpected lay-offs or disability), the courts will re-calculate your payments based on your pre-existing child support or alimony obligations.

They’ll then adjust your monthly support payments to a payment you can reasonably afford, but you’ll typically pay more than the custodial parent, even if you’ve applied for joint custody.

Other Child Support Payment Factors (State Specific)

Whether you have a 1-month-old baby or a 17-year-old child, your payments will be based on what formula your state uses, your income, and your child’s physical and emotional needs.

The Melson Formula

In Hawaii, Montana, and Delaware, you’ll use the Melson Formula. This model is similar to the income share model, except it incorporates additional expenses. The Melson Formula ensures that the parent’s and the child’s needs are met while the parents are paying child support.

The Percentage Income Model

In Texas, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Mississippi, and Alaska, you’ll use the percentage of income model. This model uses a flat or an adjusted percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income to calculate child support. This percentage usually starts at 20% and caps at 40%.

Parental Income (Non-Work Income)

Parents must submit all copies of their pay stubs and documents that support other types of income on their tax returns. Self-employed income, lottery winnings, potential future income, and stock valuations will be calculated along with your W-2 and/or employee-based income.

Parenting Time And Dependants

The custodial parent (the parent with sole and/or the majority of the joint custody time) receives more financial help from the non-custodial parent. If the non-custodial parent is paying child support from another relationship, the court will adjust both payments to make them affordable.

Special Needs And Considerations

Special needs or disabled children may receive child support well after the child becomes a legal adult or finishes college. Most states will consider after-school or recreational activities, medical costs, or higher-than-average educational expenses in the child support calculation.

Educational Factors

Your child support obligation ends once the child is 18/21 and no longer in high school. Some states require you to pay for your child while they’re in college, which may affect the type of school they attend. Parents also have the option of including college in the agreement.