5 Things You Need to Know About Child Support

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By DivorcedMoms, Senior Editor - November 05, 2013 - Updated July 05, 2016


How is Child Support Calculated?

Just as with Child Custody, child support is determined by “guidelines” set up by your state’s divorce laws.

The federal Child Support Enforcement Act sets out rules that each state must follow when setting up child support guidelines. Guidelines calculate how much support will be paid based on both parents income, in most cases and their expenses.

If you live in Alabama, have 3 children and know a mom who lives in California with her 3 children it is highly possible that your child support award will differ tremendously. Even if your ex’s incomes are comparable. Support guidelines car vary significantly from state to state.

Family Court judges in some states have great discretion when deciding child support. As long as the guidelines are followed and the amount ordered by the judge doesn’t fall below state guidelines, the judge can order more than is required under the guidelines. Generally though a judge will not order child support that strays far from state guidelines.

The following factors must be taken into consideration when setting state guidelines for child support and when ordering how much child support a non-custodial parent will pay.

  • The needs of the child, including health insurance, education, day care, and special needs.
  • The income and needs of the custodial parent.
  • The paying parent's ability to pay.
  • The child's standard of living before divorce or separation.

At the time child support is figured both parents will be required to fill out a financial statement or provide financial information to the court so the court will have a complete picture of the financial situation of both parents.

You will be required to disclose your monthly income and your expenses.

In most situations the court will take into consideration the “standard of living” of the child before the divorce. When possible an amount of child support will be awarded that will maintain the child’s standard of living.

The courts do, however, take into consideration the expense of maintaining two households and the needs of the non-custodial paying parent. Very rarely will a divorced mom walk away with enough child support to maintain the same lifestyle she lived pre-divorce.

How Does Child Custody Affect Child Support?

This is simple and makes a lot of sense. The more time the custodial parent is responsible for the care of the child, the more child support she/he will be awarded. An example, if you are awarded sole legal and physical custody the non-custodial parent will pay the highest amount of child support allowed by your state’s guidelines.

This is where conflict can arise during the divorce process. This is where parents begin to focus on the money and their own financial well-being instead of their child’s well-being. Moms and Dads are both guilty of requesting full custody or 50/50 custody in order to either obtain more child support or pay less child support.

Do your child a favor and don’t go down that road!

Will The Courts Take Into Consideration All My Expenses When Calculating Child Support?

NO! The court considers your net income when calculating child support. If you make $6,000 a month in gross income and $5,200 a month after payroll deductions, the court calculates child support based on $5,200 a month or, your net income.

Car payments, mortgages, bar tabs, anything you owe that is not a necessity will not reduce the net income that the court takes into consideration. If you know you are going to have to pay child support, do yourself a favor and don’t go out and purchase a home with a monthly payment that is half your income.

On the other hand, if you know you are going to receive alimony don’t go out and buy a home with a mortgage payment that will use up all of or, most of your child support. It seriously makes no sense and the courts won’t take what you owe in such a capacity into consideration when decided how much needs to be paid and how much needs to be received.

If you have extra expenses keep them reasonable. If you tell the judge you can’t afford to pay because your stable fees for your horse need to be paid, be expected to be laughed out of the courtroom.

What is The Cost of Living Adjustment Clause?

A cost of living adjustment clause or “COLA” is a clause you can add to your child support order that means child support payments will increase yearly at a rate equal to an annual cost of living increase index. For example, if the non-custodial parent is military you can request a COLA clause be added to cover the annual cost of living pay increase he/she receives through military pay. If your ex is someone who receives a yearly cost of living increase in salary or a yearly bonus, a COLA clause is something you should consider.

How Do I Modify My Child Support Order?

Do NOT voluntarily change the amount you receive or pay without having a Family Court judge sign off on the adjustment. If you and your ex agree to an adjustment hire an attorney and have the attorney file a petition with the court so the judge can order a new support order that reflects the changes you desire.

If you wish an upward or downward modification in child support and your ex does not agree you will need to hire an attorney and have him/her file for a motion to modify with the Family Court.


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