Child support is the ongoing, periodic financial payment made by a parent for the benefit of their minor child or children. It is often court-ordered, and in most cases, required until the child is at least 18 years old and graduates from high school. Every state has a formula for calculating support. Judges use those formulas to determine how much will be paid in each case. Some states are more lenient in setting amounts, while others have very strict guidelines. There are a few factors, however, that remain fairly consistent when determining support.
How much each parent earns.
The biggest factor in calculating child support is how much the parents earn. Each parent will be required to fill out a financial statement that gives the court a complete picture of their financial situation. A detailed report of monthly income will be required of each parent. Other income and expenses, such as investment income or child support paid or received from previous relationships, will also need to be reported.
The paying parent can’t pay.
The court recognizes legitimate reasons a parent cannot work. For example, a noncustodial parent who is disabled or critically ill, or a parent caring for a newborn or disabled child may be unable to work outside of the home. In these circumstances, a judge may decide not to attribute any income to the non-working parent.
If the noncustodial parent has recently lost a job or earns very little money, the court may order a lower support amount. Sometimes, the non-custodial parent may refuse to work or voluntarily reduce income so as to avoid or reduce child support. In this case, the amount will be based on the parent’s earning capacity – what he or she was earning or could earn – rather than what is earned due to the reduced wages.
The needs of the child.
The main priority of the court is to ensure that the child receives the financial support they need. For instance, food, shelter, clothing, and other essentials are some of the factors considered by the court. However, there are other considerations when determining child support. Such factors include your child's health insurance, education expenses, and daycare. A child with special medical, psychological, or educational needs may require a higher amount of support. If your child is an avid musician or involved in sports or other activities, a judge may consider ordering the noncustodial parent to pay an additional amount so that the child can continue a favorite activity.
These are just a few circumstances the court will consider when determining child support. If you’re going through a divorce or ending a long-term relationship and there are children involved, you should schedule a consult with an attorney or two. He or she will help you fully understand your state’s formula and all the relevant circumstances considered when calculating child support.
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About the Author: Elizabeth L. Spadafore
Elizabeth was raised in Meadville, PA and was a local small business owner before attending Duquesne University School of Law, where she received her Juris Doctorate degree in 2010. She focuses her practice on family law matters such as divorce, custody and support. Her background as former County Solicitor for Crawford County Children and Youth services, combined with her experience in bankruptcy actions and personal injury actions, allows her to successfully navigate matters that are both highly sensitive and legally complex.