Establishing and Calculating Child Support FAQ

How do courts calculate child support?

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How do courts calculate child support?

According to the federal Child Support Enforcement Act, each state has developed guidelines to calculate a range of child support to be paid, based on the parents' respective incomes and expenses. These guidelines vary considerably from state to state, which means that in virtually identical situations the child support ordered in one state may be far more or less than that ordered in another state. Some states allow their judges considerable leeway in setting the actual amount, as long as the general state guidelines are followed. Others have very strict guidelines that leave the judges very little leeway.

Regardless of how much latitude judges are given, the guidelines in effect in most states specify factors that must be considered in determining who pays how much child support. These factors usually include:

  • the needs of the child -- including health insurance, education, day care, and special needs
  • the income and needs of the custodial parent
  • the paying parent's ability to pay, and
  • the child's standard of living before divorce or separation.

Courts often require each divorcing spouse to fill out a financial statement to provide a complete picture of the parents' financial situations before making a decision on child support. In the financial statement, the spouse must detail his or her monthly income and expenses.

When a court sets child support, it often considers the family's pre-divorce standard of living and attempts to continue this standard for the children, if feasible. However, courts are aware of the difficulty of maintaining two households on the income that formerly supported one home. Maintenance of the same standard of living is therefore more of a goal than a guarantee.

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