In general, child support is set by the trial or family court judge that issued a divorce decree. If the child is no longer in that jurisdiction, another family court or trial court judge will make the determinations. The judge will examine a host of factors, including:
Child support calculations are in their most general sense a portion of a parent's income that will pay for the ordinary monthly expenses of a child such as food, clothing, medications, health insurance, housing and education. The support is exclusively for the children in order to offset the costs to the custodial parent. It is not for the custodial parent's personal expenses.
Depending on what a child had before their parents lived in separate homes, child support may include payment for things like summer camp, private school tuition, lessons and other activities or costs that may be discretionary in some families but essential in others. The purpose is to keep children from suffering financial harm due to the break-up of their household.
Most states have a separate Child Support Guide that they use to calculate child support payment obligations. Child Support calculations vary from state to state. For example, the Child Support Guide in Georgia assigns 17-23% of a non-custodial parent's gross income to pay child support for one child. Illinois assigns 20% of that parent's net income. Other states use their own calculators to ascertain an amount based on a particular non-custodial parent's income and expenses.
What if a non-custodial parent doesn't have any money to pay child support? If that parent has no income whatsoever (for instance, due to incarceration), the court will usually assign a nominal payment obligation such as $1 per month. A parent can not make an agreement with the other parent not to provide support for his/her children or use poverty as an excuse not to pay some type of support. The care of children is given a high priority in court and trumps discretionary expenses incurred by a parent or the parent's career plans and desires.
What about payment for expenses for an adult child? A popular example is college attendance costs. Some courts will require a non-custodial parent to chip in for college costs, even including fees for activities such as fraternity/sorority membership or clubs. Generally, this happens if a non-custodial parent has the income to help a custodial parent with college expenses. Though college is considered so important for a child's future, support obligations generally end when the child turns 18. Therefore, a custodial parent will usually need to petition the court for coverage of college expenses.
What if a non-custodial parent makes more money than the state child support guide indicates for a level of support? If this is true, the judge will use discretion in determining an amount for support obligations.
The points made in this article are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel. A lawyer will know more specific information and can give specialized guidance in determining child support calculations as well as direct one to the Child Support Guide used in the relevant state.