Divorce-101: Child Support Math

Divorce-101: Child Support Math

About Child Support; A Primer of the Basics about How it is Determined

What about child support? How is that determined? As a parent, a primary post-divorce goal is to ensure that you’re able to financially care for your children. That’s where child support comes in.

This payment is usually made by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent, i.e., the parent with whom the children spend most their time, and is typically determined as part of the divorce. It is based on the principle that both parents are responsible for the care of their children even after a marriage is dissolved.

And while the custodial parent meets many of the financial needs of the child, support payments from the ex-spouse are designed to ensure that such expenses are not an undue burden. Even if the custodial parent earns more than the noncustodial parent, child support payments are required.

Child support payments remain legally binding, even in cases where the parent making the child support payments is limited when it comes to decisions on the rearing of the child.

Obtaining child support in divorce cases, child support payments generally are mandated by the court as part of the divorce settlement. However, there are different routes to get to that order.

A parent can hire an attorney to oversee child support issues. Or the parent can opt instead to directly file applications in the local courthouses. The application is required so that the child support matter can be heard by the court. Applications vary from state to state, but all typically contain information about the custodial and noncustodial parents, including names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth. And in all cases, filing and court fees are involved, but in cases where financial hardship can be shown, these might be waived.

Before the court will hear the support case, the parent from whom payment is sought must be physically located. If the parent is attempting to avoid his or her financial obligations to the child, once that parent is located he or she will be served with a court summons. After that, the noncustodial parent then must attend a mandatory court hearing to determine whether he or she is responsible for child support payments.

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After support responsibility is confirmed, the court will order the noncustodial parent to make timely child support payments.


In determining child support amounts, courts typically take into consideration two issues. First, there is the cost of supporting a child. Then there is the ability of the parents to meet those costs. From these starting points, each state then devises calculations that can be verified and certified. These usually are computer programs that take into account financial information such as, in part, parental earnings, visitation rights, taxes and insurance costs.In addition to monetary payments, the support paying parent could be ordered to provide other types of support. In some cases, for example, the parent must add the children to the parent’s health insurance plan or to make contributions to college plans.

Finally, the judge is not bound by the guidelines and can diverge from them evidence indicates the situation warrants it. Adjusting payments Child support orders are reviewed periodically to determine if modifications or payment adjustments are needed. Either parent also can request modification of a child support arrangement. For example, if the noncustodial parent loses his or her job, that parent can ask the court to reduce the payment amount. Similarly, if the paying parent receives a pay increase or the child’s expenses increase, the custodial parent can seek a parallel hike in child support payments.


The Administration for Children and Families, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for enforcing child support payments. Numerous federal laws provide a framework which each state must use in developing its own child support enforcement program. Under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, guidance is provided in dealing with the varying state laws and regulations to ensure that only one state can impose or modify child support at any one time. This state-to-state coordination provides for, in part, reciprocal recognition of orders between states, enforcement of child support across state lines and resolution when there is conflict of laws and orders by different states.


Support payments end when the child reaches the age of majority. However, that age differs by court order and by state. In some jurisdictions, child support stops when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever happens last. In other states or under court order, support payments may continue until the child is older, e.g., 21. Payments also typically end when a child obtains legal emancipation, i.e., when parents relinquish custody rights and are relieved of their financial support responsibilities for the child. However, when a noncustodial parent owes back child support, those payments must continue, regardless of the child’s age, until the debt is paid. When negotiating the support agreement, be sure to clearly state at what age or milestone — for example, graduation from high school or college, marriage, when the child gets a full-time job — that determines emancipation.

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