Child Support Determined in Family Law

Child support is a payment made from one parent to the other parent or guardian for the financial care of their child or children after a divorce or separation. Determining how much child support should be paid can be a complicated process, as many factors are taken into consideration when calculating the amount. This article provides an overview of how child support is determined in family law.

The main goals of child support are to ensure the child maintains a similar standard of living to what they would have if the parents were still together, and to financially provide for their basic needs. When deciding on child support amounts, courts will consider aspects like each parent’s income and ability to pay, the child’s expenses and needs, and custody arrangements. Generally, the parent with more custody pays less support, while the parent with less custody pays more – but various other factors can impact the final amount.

Gross Income of Both Parents

A major determining factor in calculating child support is the gross income of both parents. This includes income from all sources, before any deductions or taxes are taken out, like:

– Employment wages and salaries
– Commissions and tips
– Dividends and interest
– Rental property income
– Business income
– Pensions and retirement benefits
– Unemployment benefits
– Disability payments
– Any other source of regular income

The court will require both parents to disclose accurate income information, including pay stubs and tax returns. The combined parental gross income is used as a starting point in state child support guidelines to determine the basic support obligation.

Number of Children

The number of children requiring support is another factor, as more children mean higher expenses. Child support guidelines take into account how many children the order covers. For example, the basic support amount for two children is higher than for just one child.

Some states will even adjust support orders when a second or subsequent child is born, usually resulting in more support for the first child/children.

Child Care and Health Care Costs

Work-related childcare costs and children’s health insurance premiums will also impact child support amounts. If one parent is paying for daycare and health insurance, the other parent will likely have to contribute to these costs in addition to the base child support obligation.

The parent covering medical bills not covered by insurance may also request the other parent’s contribution. Overall, including predictable child-rearing costs ensures the child’s needs are provided for.

Parenting Time Arrangements

Custody arrangements and the amount of time each parent spends with the child are considered when determining child support payments. In joint custody, where parenting time is roughly equal, child support payments will generally be lower.

But for sole physical custody, where one parent has the majority of parenting time, they will typically get higher child support from the non-custodial parent. The idea is to balance financial support based on the time each parent gets with the child.

States have different ways of handling this – some adjust for various custody arrangements, while others don’t factor it in. But in general, more parenting time equals less child support paid.

Parent’s Standard of Living

Courts may think about each parent’s standard of living before having children. The child support amount determined should allow as close to a similar standard as possible following the separation. This may mean adjusting the basic support guidelines up or down so children aren’t forced into substantially different living standards between households.

Ability to Pay

Lastly, a parent’s ability to pay child support can be used to adjust the amount higher or lower. If a parent is financially unable to pay the guideline support amount due to unemployment, disability, or extremely low wages, courts have discretion to lower the order. But higher income earners may pay more in some states. The goal is a fair support amount based on each case.


Determining appropriate child support involves weighing many different factors surrounding both parents’ financial situations and the child’s needs. While state guidelines provide a starting number, other considerations like expenses, custody time, and ability to pay allow courts to tailor orders to individual cases. The ultimate goal is adequate support enabling children to maintain reasonable standards of living despite the changed family situation.


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