Understanding the Basics of Child Support


  • The rules and regulations of child support are dependent on the state.
  • There are three models that states use to determine child support.
  • A motion can be filed to modify child support.

As a parent, you should want to be there for your children and provide for them. Whether you are married, divorced, or single, your relationship with your child is important and is always worth fighting for.

For those that are unable to have primary custody of your child, you are forced to pay child support, in order to ensure that your child’s needs are met.

In paying child support, you are entrusting your co-parent to spend the money in a way that will ensure that your child is well provided for. As difficult as it may be to deal with the fact that your child is not living with you, it may be a worse feeling knowing that your child is not provided for, which is why child support is so important.

The rules and regulations regarding child support vary depending on the state, but the states generally use one of three possible models to determine the base child support amount due, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The percentage of income model

The percentage of income model sets support as a percentage of only the noncustodial parent’s income, while the custodial parent’s income is not considered. This model comes in two variations: the flat percentage model and the varying percentage model.

The flat percentage variation of the percentage of income model calculates child support based on a fixed percentage across all levels of income of the paying parent, according to Laura W. Morgan’s “Child Support Guidelines: Interpretation and Application.” The percentage of income devoted to the child stays consistent at all income levels.

The varying percentage variation of the percentage of income model applies different percentages to different levels of income making it so the percentage of the payor’s income devoted to child support varies according to the level he or she is receiving as income, according to the University of California-Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.

Wisconsin, Nevada, Mississippi, Illinois, and Alaska use the flat percentage variation of the percentage of income model, while Texas, North Dakota, and Arkansas use the varying percentage variation of the percentage of income model.

The income shares model

Another model that is used by states to determine child support is the income shares model. It is based on the idea that the child should receive the same proportion of a parent’s income as they would if they were living together.

This system is used by Wyoming, West Virginia, Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Utah, Tennessee, South Dakota, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, Georgia, Florida, Connecticut, Colorado, California, Arizona, Alabama, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands.

The Melson model

The Melson formula is the third model utilized by states to determine child support. It is a hybrid of cost-sharing and income-sharing models and requires that each parent’s basic needs be met before child support is set, according to the Administration for Children and Families.

The three principles of the Melson formula are:

  • That the parents are entitled to keep sufficient income to meet their basic needs to encourage continued employment, that until the basic needs of the child are met
  • That parents should not be permitted to retain any more income than that required to provide the bare necessities for their own self-support
  • That where income is sufficient to cover the parents’ basic needs and those of the dependent, the child is entitled to share in any additional income and benefit from the noncustodial parent’s higher standard of living.

The states that utilize this method are Montana, Delaware, and Hawaii, and for low-income cases, the Melson formula includes a self-support reserve for parents. Washington D.C. uses a hybrid model that starts as the varying percentage of income variation of the percentage of income model and is then reduced by a formula based on the custodial parent’s income.

Change and circumstance

Each model is subject to the laws of each state, but most states also will periodically review the amount being paid to make sure that it is, in fact, being paid, and to make adjustments, if a motion is filed to modify child support. This tends to occur during a significant change in circumstances since the original child support order was issued.

While it is difficult to come to terms with having money taken from you and going to another household, understand that it is to the benefit of your child. As challenging as it may be to come to terms with being away from your child, you are legally solidifying your relationship with your child through your abilities of providing for them.

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