Child support orders are typically awarded to custodial parents in divorce cases, although they may sometimes be awarded in joint custody arrangements as well. Not all divorcing parents will choose to seek a court-ordered child support arrangement. You can also agree to share costs informally amongst yourselves, or, if income is sufficient, custodial parents may simply choose to burden the financial responsibilities themselves.

The purpose of child support

The purpose of child support is to ensure that each parent contributes their fair share towards the financial cost of raising a child, irrespective of that parent’s personal involvement. Child support was originally introduced as a means to help struggling mothers and their kids, who were often relegated to poverty after a divorce.

Rules and regulations regarding child support

Since child support laws are enacted and enforced by states, each state has their own rules and regulations governing child support awards. So not only does each state use its own method for determining the amount of child support owed, but they also have different laws governing whether the state has the power to garnish wages to collect child support, whether parents can make payments directly to the court rather than the other parent, and whether long-arm statutes and other regulations can be applied.

Guidelines used to establish child support

The amount of child support owed is based on a set of universal criteria, which includes factors such as…

  • The number of children involved
  • The cost of living in the area of the custodial parent
  • The age of the child(ren) as this relates to their care costs
  • The noncustodial parent’s budget and living expenses, as well as their ability to pay
  • Each parent’s income relative to one another

Historically, guidelines of “reasonableness” were used to determine a noncustodial parent’s responsibility for child support. A local judge typically used budgets submitted by custodial parents pertaining to the care of children, and used this is conjunction with the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay the determined amount. A judge or arbitrator may still use this criteria if you litigate child support in court or when one parent is seeking supplemental support.

These days, however, it’s more common for child support to be calculated according to a standard formula, much as if one were doing their taxes. Federal legislation over the last few decades has provided numerical formulas that are meant to guide decisions about child support awards, yet amounts can still vary widely from state to state.

Additional Resources on Child Support