Child Support Law

Does Every State Follow the Same Formula in Calculating Child Support?

When couples with children separate or divorce, it's normal for both parents to wonder how the courts will decide on the amount of child support. You also may have questions about how your state laws affect the court-ordered amount to be paid or received.

What formula is used in calculating the amount of financial support paid by the non-custodial parent? Does it vary by state, or is the same method used across the country?

State Law Child Support Formulas

What you pay as the non-custodial parent - or receive as the custodial parent - will depend on your state laws and the formula used by your state to determine the amount of support.

Child support laws do vary from state to state, but there are three basic child support models followed by most of the United States:

  • Flat Percentage
  • Income Shares
  • The Melson Formula

Flat Percentage

The Flat Percentage Formula for calculating how much financial support the non-custodial parent will be paying is relatively straight forward.

Using the Flat Percentage Model, the courts determine the amount of child support the non-custodial parent will pay based on a percentage. The two factors considered usually include the paying parent's income and number of children to support.

Income Shares

Of the three models used to determine the amount of child support the non-custodial parent will pay, the income shares model is the most common method for determining child support guidelines. 

The Income Shares model considers both parents' income and how many children will need to be supported.

Depending on the state guidelines, the court will usually factor in the net or the gross income of both parents. Using a formula, the courts apply the state child support guidelines to these factors. Generally, the application of income shares will result in one parent paying a proportionate share of basic support. It may also include a proportionate contribution to health insurance premiums, medical care, child care and educational expenses. 

The Melson Formula

The Melson Formula is very similar to the Income Shares model. While the Melson Formula also considers the income of both parents and the needs of the child, there is one significant difference. Unlike the Income Shares, the Melson Formula also includes an adjustment for the standard of living .

What does this mean, exactly?

Thanks to the built-in standard-of-living adjustment, the Melson Formula allows the court-ordered child support amount to increase as their parents' income increases. This formula is more complicated than either the Flat Shares or Income Shares Formulas. 

How a Child Support Attorney Can Help

Depending on where you live, you may find some of the state child support calculations to be challenging to apply to your situation. Determination of income, how to handle unemployment or underemployment, considering additional expenses other than basic support - all of these may come into play in your child support case. 

Getting the right counsel and legal advice for your circumstances can have an impact on your financial support order.