How is child support set?
Child support is set based on two things: the physical custody order and the parents' income.
When one parent has primary or sole physical custody of a child, child support is set as a percentage of a noncustodial parent's income. A noncustodial parent typically pays 18% of his or her gross monthly income for 1 child, 25% of income for 2 children, 29% of income for 3 children, and an additional 2% of monthly income for each additional child.
When parents share joint physical custody of their children, the court calculates the child support each parent would pay according to the percentages above. Then the court subtracts the lower earning parent's amount from the higher earning parent's amount, and the higher earning parent pays the difference.
The judge can order an amount larger or smaller than these percentages under some circumstances. For a more complete discussion of child support, please see Overview of Custody and Child Support.
If I have joint custody, doesn't that mean I won't have to pay child support?
Not necessarily. The judge will calculate child support based on both parent's incomes, and usually the higher earning parent will pay some child support to the lower earning parent (see the question above for the calculation).
I don't know how much my ex earns each month. How do I know how much child support to ask for?
Since child support is set based on the parent's monthly income, it is helpful to know roughly how much the other parent earns every month. You can estimate if you do not know, but ultimately, the judge will have to determine how much money both parents earn in order to properly set child support. Both parents are required to file Financial Disclosure Forms that include information about their employment, income, and expenses, and they must attach their last three paystubs as proof. This helps the judge figure out each person's true monthly income so child support can be calculated.
My ex is lying about how much money she makes! How do I prove this to the judge?
If you think the other person is not being truthful about their monthly earnings, let the judge know. The judge has the power to order either party to provide additional financial records, including the last three years' worth of tax returns.
Can the judge award me back child support?
A judge may award up to 4 years of back child support. This is not automatic; a judge will decide if back child support is appropriate in each individual case.
I just bought the child clothes, toys, and a new computer. Can I deduct those costs from my child support payment to the other parent?
No. Any purchases and gifts for a child do not offset against court-ordered child support.
I pay the health insurance premiums for the children's insurance at work. Can I deduct the premium costs from my child support payment?
The cost of health insurance coverage is one of the factors a judge can take into consideration when setting child support. Make sure to let the judge know how much you spend every month for the children's insurance costs. The judge can reduce the amount of child support ordered to take this into account (but if the judge didn't order it, pay the court-ordered amount!).
My ex won't pay child support. How do I collect?
Your local Child Support Enforcement Office exists to help parents establish and collect child support. You can learn more about their services by visiting the Collecting Child Support page.
What do I do if I can't afford to pay the amount of child support ordered?
If financial circumstances change, it is important to ask the other parent and the court to change child support. You are legally responsible to pay the court-ordered child support until the order changes, and non-payment could result in thousands of dollars of arrears accruing against you!
First, talk to the other parent about changing child support, even if only temporarily. If the other parent agrees, the two of you can sign a stipulation agreeing to the change. The stipulation is signed by the judge and entered as your new court order.
If the other parent does not want to change child support, you can re-open a divorce or custody case and file a motion to change child support. You will usually have to prove that you have had a 20% or more change in income for the judge to consider changing child support, and you will have to file a Financial Disclosure Form detailing your employment, income, and expenses. You can find the forms and information on how to do this on the How to Change an Order page.
How long does child support last?
Child support lasts until a child turns 18, or, if the child is still enrolled in high school, until the child turns 19 or finishes high school (whichever happens first).