How Are Child Support Payments Determined?

Child support can be a thorny problem. For some couples, it can be one of the toughest battles in the divorce process.

As hard as a divorcing couple may want to fight over this issue, the reality is that a lot of rules tend to determine who will pay child support and how much. Thus, one way to address the tension that may arise around this topic is to develop a clearer understanding of what goes into determining support payments. A little perspective can go a long way.

State-Based Standards

Before taking a close look at how child support payments are typically determined, it’s worth recalling a basic fact: getting divorced is expensive. In fact, the cost is widely regarded as the primary reason divorce rates have dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic; the money just isn’t there (or people fear it is not).

In certain states that allow for the basic dissolution of marriage, the paperwork for a DIY divorce may cost as little as $500. More complex cases can run as much as $30,000. Child support payments typically amount to very little compared to the overall cost of the average divorce.

Just as states have differing rules for the divorce process, they may use different models for determining child support. The most common include a percentage-of-income model, in which support is based on the non-custodial parent’s income — since the custodial parent is assumed to be spending most of her or his income on the children already.

The income-shares model aims to distribute support so it is essentially equivalent to what the household income would be if the parents still living together and sharing expenses evenly.

Room To Negotiate?

Although state-established standards for determining child support usually set general guidelines for how much child support is owed by a non-custodial parent, in many cases, there is some room for negotiation. This is particularly the case when both parents have sufficient income to support the child or children.

In such cases, observes child support lawyer Rowdy Williams, “You can negotiate child support payments – especially as the non-custodial parent. While you’re obligated to offer support in covering necessities, once support demands go beyond that you can argue for a lower total.”

Other Variables

When your custody arrangement is split between both parents, as opposed to a custodial and a non-custodial parent, one of the parties might still be responsible for child support payments. This can happen for several reasons.

First, the higher-earning parent may still be obligated to pay some child support in order to ensure similar living conditions regardless of which parent the child happens to be staying with on a given day. Second, if the parents have uneven degrees of physical custody, the one with less time may pay some child support in order to even out how much each parent spends on childcare-related needs.

In some states, and in some legal cases, child support payments may also take into account other dependents who are not part of the particular custody case. For example, if a partner has a child from a previous relationship that he or she is having to support, that added cost may be factored in when evaluating relative income levels so as avoid an undue burden upon that individual.

Whatever the child support decision is in your case, it’s crucial to recognize that the courts are invested in making a fair decision that is in the best interests of the child, not in punishing either of the parents. More to the point, even if you believe you’re being required to pay too much, the child is still yours.

Even if you don’t have custody, you have legal obligations to your son or daughter and that individual’s well-being. That’s not something you may shirk, and the courts and your ex have the right to hold you accountable.

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