How to Calculate Child Support

Three Parts:Understanding Child Support PaymentsTaking Stock of Your FinancesEstimating Child Support Payments

Child support is designed to cover a child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, and other care (such as medical insurance). It is also designed to allow a child to partake of the lifestyle of the non-custodial parent. Child support may be awarded even if the parents never married. Whether you are planning to pay or planning to receive child support payments, you can get a rough idea of the amount by learning what factors courts consider.

Part 1
Understanding Child Support Payments

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    Understand the purpose of child support. Child support is designed to allow a child to enjoy a standard of living that is approximate to what he or she would have enjoyed had the parents lived together. Child support may be ordered when the parents are separated, have never lived together, or are in divorce, dissolution of marriage, annulment, or in the midst of paternity and legal separation cases.[1] Typically, it is paid to the parent with whom the children spend the majority of their time.[2]
    • Child support is not alimony. The purpose of alimony is to rehabilitate or support a former spouse. Though the other parent may financially benefit from child support payments, the purpose of the payments is to benefit the children who no longer live with you.
    • Child support payments are set by a court or are agreed to by the parents themselves, who then have their agreement approved by a court.[3]
    • Once set, child support payments can only be amended by court order.[4]
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    Read your state laws on child support. Each state has formulas for determining child support payments, typically found in statutes. You may find your statute by typing “child support” and your state into a web browser. These formulas consider the child’s needs and the parents’ ability to pay.[5] These formulas, however, are often only “guidelines,” which a judge can depart from.[6] Typically, courts can consider a variety of factors when setting child support payments:[7]
    • The parents’ income. Some states consider only the non-custodial parent’s income, while other courts consider both. Also, some states use “gross” income while others consider only “net” income (income after taxes and allowable deductions, such as taxes and/or union dues).
    • Child support or alimony that either parent receives or is paying from a previous marriage.
    • Which parent is paying for childcare and health care.
    • Whether either parent is responsible for children other than the children from the current marriage.
    • The number of children each parent is supporting and their age. This factor is important because the expenses of raising children do not double for each child you add.
    • Whether either parent lives with a new partner or spouse who contributes to household expenses.
    • If the child is disabled. If your child is disabled, support payments could continue indefinitely if the child is not capable of self-care.[8]
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    Meet with an attorney. An experienced attorney will be able to more accurately estimate child support payments. Attorneys also have experience with particular judges and will know a judge’s likeliness to differ from a state’s formula.
    • To find an experienced family law attorney, you can visit your state’s bar association website. States often run referral services, which you can call or email.

Part 2
Taking Stock of Your Finances

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    Calculate the gross income of the non-custodial parent. Most formulas require that the non-custodial parent pay a percentage of his or her gross income. Typically, the higher the parent’s gross income, the higher the child support payments will be.[9] The following counts for purposes of income:
    • wages and tips, as well as self-employed income
    • bonuses and incentive pay from work
    • income from a trust fund or an estate
    • government benefits, such as Social Security benefits
    • pension income
    • veterans’ benefits and military personnel fringe benefits[10]
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    Document household and living expenses. Monthly household and living expenses, such as mortgage or rent, clothing, food, health insurance, electric and other utilities may be taken into account when determining the non-custodial parent’s child support obligations. Discretionary expenses you may have, such as dining out and club memberships, may not be included in your household and living expense calculations. If you have personal loans, contact your divorce attorney to see if the loans should be included in your monthly expense calculations.
    • States differ as to whether or not they consider this information. Increasingly, states are only interested in living expenses if they are related to taking care of the child. In other words, the state may not care how much it costs the non-custodial parent to live when calculating his or her child support payments.[11]
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    List expenses related to your children’s health and welfare. Expenses such as the costs of health care insurance, daycare, and education are also factors that influence the amount of child support to be paid.[12] A goal of the courts is to ensure children of divorce maintain the same quality and level of health care, educational resources, and daycare after divorce proceedings as they had before the family household broke up.
    • These expenses are especially important for children who may have special medical or educational needs. Courts do not want services that benefit these children to diminish, which would in turn have a negative effect on their health or educational development.
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    Calculate the custodial parent's income. The custodial parent's income will also have to be calculated, in the same manner as the non-custodial parent's income. To get a better estimate of child support payments, you should get as much financial information as possible from the other parent. In the absence of specific information, you could roughly estimate his or her income.
    • To estimate, visit an online salary wizard. Once there, you can enter the job title and location in order to find a rough estimate of what a job pays.
    • If you are going through a non-contested divorce, then you both may wish to sit down with your respective attorneys and try to calculate child support payments. In this type of setting, the other parent may be more willing to share personal financial information.

Part 3
Estimating Child Support Payments

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    Find your state’s online calculator. provides online child support calculators that you may use to estimate child support payments. These online calculators are user-friendly and make organizing financial information a breeze.
    • Understand that these calculators provide only estimates. Your ultimate amount of child support could vary from this amount.
    • States may also have separate calculators not affiliated with AllLaw. You can find them by searching “child support calculator” and your state. These calculators sometimes come with user guides, which explain in more depth the factors a court takes into consideration.
    • California’s user guide, for example, may be found here.
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    Negotiate support payments. You have the option of coming to an agreement with the other parent on child support payments. Any agreement must still be approved by a court, so you will have to agree to a reasonable amount—something similar to what your state’s formula would award. Judges retain the ability to reject an agreement.[13] Nevertheless, coming to an agreement does provide some flexibility.
    • If your state’s guidelines seem too low, you may want to try to negotiate a higher amount.[14]
    • You can also negotiate to make some child support terms “non-modifiable.” The law of non-modifiability is rather complex. The court always retains the power to modify even “non-modifiable” support provisions if doing so is in the best interest of the child.
    • However, some states will allow you to set a non-modifiable minimum payment, so long as this minimum meets the minimum set by the state formula.[15]
    • Whatever you agree to, you will need to explain to the court how the agreement serves the child’s best interest.[16]
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    Understand the tax implications of child support. Child support is tax-free at the federal level for recipients. However, child support payments are not tax-deductible for the parent making the payments.[17]
    • If you are negotiating child support as part of a marital settlement agreement, you need to make sure that child support is designated as such and not lumped in with alimony. Lumping it together with alimony will cause it to lose its tax-exempt status.[18]
    • You should contact a tax attorney with questions if you are worried about the tax consequences of child support.


  • Contact the court and request a temporary or permanent child support modification if the financial circumstances of you or your former spouse changes. Medical emergencies (affecting either a child or parent) or unemployment of a parent can warrant a temporary modification to child support orders. The court may permanently modify a child support order if a parent's income increases or decreases, a parent remarries and benefits from the additional income their new spouse brings into marriage, a parent becomes disabled or a child develops special health or educational needs.
  • If your court-approved child support payments leave you financially strapped, review your pay stubs to see if you can make adjustments. Adjusting income tax withholdings or reducing the amount of voluntary deductions such as deferred compensation contributions can increase your net take home pay.

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Categories: Children and Divorce