How Are Child Support Payments Determined?

photo credit: jen-the-librarian
photo credit: jen-the-librarian

The federal government has a number of guidelines when it comes to determining child support payments in order to ensure consistency and predictability in awarded child support payments. Each state has different guidelines.


All guidelines have income as the starting point for calculating child support payments. The income of both parents is taken into consideration. The percentage of each parent that constitutes the total income of the family is used to determine what each parent will have to pay for child support. Some states use gross income as the indicating factor, others – net income.


A parent who is already paying child support or alimony from a previous arrangement will usually be entitled to a deduction from their income. For the deduction to be valid, there are two requirements: the first one is that the support payments must be court-ordered (enforced by law, i.e. not voluntary) and the second one is that the parent actually makes the payments. A parent cannot make deductions from his or her income in order to support a subsequent spouse or child.

Childcare expenses

State laws also take into consideration the amount of money that is spent on childcare in order to keep a job or look for a job. Some states adjust the amount for childcare expenses to account for federal dependant care exemption on income taxes. Usually, states that provide this type of tax exemption will calculate and adjust the expense for this as well.

Healthcare expense

The child support order states clearly who will have to pay for the child’s health insurance. The basic child support order will also include the amount spent on health insurance and will be credited to the parent who has been ordered to pay. Many states also call for an extra amount that will be used to cover out of pocket, unforeseen expenses. Emergency health care expenses will also be accounted for.

Other expenses

Other expenses may be added to the basic child support order to accommodate for children who have special needs such as handicapped children or gifted children. Visitation expenses incurred by the parent or child are usually split between the parents according to their incomes. The parent without custody would receive credit for this expense which belongs to the the parent who has the custody.

Shared custody and visitation

When determining the amount of the child support award, state guidelines take into account the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Generally, the more time the children spend with the non-custodial parent, the more expenses he will incur. Shared custody and extended visitation-type situations will have a lesser amount of child support than in those where there is sole custody and less visitation.

There is a presumption that state guidelines provide the correct amount when it comes to legal cases where it is required to determine the amount of child support to be awarded. It’s possible, however, to obtain an amount that is bigger or smaller than the established guidelines. A judicial determination of extenuating factors that diverge from established guidelines will be required in order for this to happen.