How Child Support Is Calculated

How child support is calculated varies by state. Most states calculate child support with the income shares model that bases the payment on the income of both parents and the number of children. Other states use a percentage of income model or a Melson formula to calculate child support. Enter your ZIP code below to speak with a local attorney about how child support is calculated in your state.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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In the United States, states regulate the payment of child support through civil statutes but use different formulas for calculating child support services.

Most states, including California, Michigan, New York, and Ohio, use what is called the income shares model. Only a few states, including Texas and Alaska, use the percentage of income model.

The District of Columbia and Massachusetts use a combination of the income shares and percentage of income models. Only three states, Hawaii, Delaware, and Montana, use the Melson formula.

Therefore, the child support percentage by state varies.

Keep reading to find out how child support is calculated in different states. If you need help from an attorney, just enter your ZIP code below.

How is income factored into child support payments?

Why is child support based on income?

In income shares states, the court bases the child support payment on the income of both parents and the number of minor children. For example, if a non-custodial parent has a net income of $2,500 a month and the parent with physical custody has an income of $2,000 a month, the parents’ total monthly income is $4,500, Using an economic table that shows the expected cost of raising children, the court will determine that the total monthly child support obligation is $1,125 for one child. The non-custodial parent’s income is approximately 55.6 percent of the parents’ total parental income and the custodial parents’ income is 44.4 percent. Therefore, the non-custodial parent would pay $625.50 a month in support or 55.6 percent of the total obligation of the parents.

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What is the percentage of income model?

In percentage of income states, the court bases the payment of the child support obligation on a specific percentage of the noncustodial parent‘s gross or net income, and the number of children the parent supports. The percentage of income can be flat or varying. In flat states, the percentage of income does not change even if the non-custodial parent’s income fluctuates. In varying states, the percentage of income changes when the non-custodial parent’s income fluctuates.

How much is child support for one kid?

For example, a non-custodial parent has a net income of $2,500 a month and one child to support. Only the non-custodial parent’s income is considered. The flat percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income that must be dedicated to child support is 25% percent for one child. The non-custodial parent will pay $625 a month.

What is the Melson Formula?

In Melson formula states, the court bases the child support payment on a defined set of factors, which include the needs of the child and standard of living adjustment (SOLA) for the child. The Melson formula is a variation on the income shares model. It allows more money for child support as one or both parents increase their income. The calculations for child support payments in Melson formula states are more complex than either the income shares or percentage of income model.

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What factors affect child support?

In addition to monthly income, most states take into consideration the following factors in child support calculations:

  • basic child support or alimony either parent receives from a previous marriage
  • whether either parent is paying child support or alimony from a previous marriage
  • whether either parent is responsible for children from a previous (or subsequent) marriage
  • which parent is paying for the health insurance benefit premiums, and the health care costs and sometimes medical expenses
  • which parent is paying daycare costs and other child care expenses, and the cost of the childcare arrangements
  • whether either parent is required to pay union dues or has other amounts deducted from paychecks
  • ages of the children
  • whether either parent receives irregular income such as bonuses or incentive pay or expects severance pay or other lump-sum payments
  • whether either parent lives with a new partner or spouse who contributes to household expenses

What is at the court’s discretion?

A court working on child support law has the power to deviate from the state’s standard model and base child support payments on other factors, including the needs of the child, the child’s standard of living before the parents’ separation or divorce, the ability of the non-custodial parent to pay, the needs and income of the custodial parent, and the amount of time that the child spends with the paying parent. Courts may also consider whether a paying parent pays child support for two or more families under two or more child support orders, separation or divorce agreements between parents, and the child’s own resources, such as a trust or inheritance.

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