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How to Determine Child Support

How to Determine Child Support

Calculating child support is a source of consternation for both, custodial and non-custodial parents who want to ensure the well-being of their children.
Aparna Iyer
Child support is necessary following a divorce, in order to ensure that the quality of the child's life does not deteriorate on account of the parents filing for divorce. There was a time when child support was not mandatory. But today, it is compulsory in order to ensure that children enjoy the same standard of living, both before and after the parents legally separate. Of course, this is a goal rather than a guarantee, since it is difficult for parents to ensure that children enjoy the same standard of living given that they have to manage two households in place of one.

What Expenses Does Child Support Cover?

Child support is supposed to cover the cost of education and the cost of buying health insurance for the child. Day care expenses also have to be taken into account before determining child support. Special needs of the child, if any, should be borne in mind before arriving at the appropriate figure. Previously, the needs of the custodial parent were also considered. Nowadays, its calculations generally, does not include the cost of supporting the custodial parent.

How is Child Support Figured Out?

Since child support is paid by the non-custodial parent to the parent retaining physical custody of the child, the amount of support will be less if parents have joint custody. If one parent has custody of the child, the amount is determined on the basis of the non-custodial parent's gross income minus necessary deductions. Deductions include payment for the following: income tax, social security, unemployment benefits, mandatory retirement contributions, health insurance premium for the non-custodial parent, union dues, and child support being paid for other children from prior relationships. Interest or principal repayment on debts, that the non-custodial parent may be obliged to pay, are not deducted from the gross income before calculating the amount. In case the gross income fluctuates, the court decides the level of income that would be used to determine the child support. It is based on the amount of money that a parent can earn regardless of the actual income of the parent. Determining child support on the basis of the ability to earn is to ensure that the parent's desire for leisure, job satisfaction, or higher education does not interfere with the ability or the obligation to provide for the child.

Payment for Child Support = Percentage as per State Guidelines × (Gross Income-Deductions)

A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause is often included by judges in the child support order to ensure that the payment made by the non-custodial parent is inflation adjusted and changes based on an economic indicator like the Consumer Price Index.

When Does Child Support Stop?

Generally, child support stops when the child attains the age of 18, unless the child suffers from some disability. In this case, the support will continue until the child is able to fend for himself/herself. It may end before the child reaches 18 years of age if the child marries, joins the army, or becomes financially independent. In case the child joins college, child support may continue till the age of 19. The support automatically ends when either the parent or the child dies, the child is adopted, or the non-custodial parent gets custody of the child.

The purpose of child support is to ensure that the child is taken care of. Hence, it may be temporarily or permanently modified if circumstances demand modification. For instance, a medical emergency may require the parent to pay more to ensure that the child's needs are not neglected. Similarly, a parent may request a modification due to illness or economic hardship.