Calculating Child Support

CORNERSTONE – The Ultimate Guyvorce Guide

Note: This article is for educational purposes only.

States generally use one of three models to calculate child support base amounts judges can order.

All three of these models share common aspects. Most incorporate a “self-support” income reserve for the paying parent. All of them have a provision relating to imputed income.

By federal regulation, all guidelines take into consideration the health care expenses for the children, by insurance and other means. Most have incorporated special additions for child care expenses, special formulas for shared custody and visitation as well as special deductions for the support of other children (biological or adopted) in the obligor’s household.

The Income Shares Model

This model is largely based on the concept that children should receive proportion of parental income that they would’ve received if their biological parents lived together. In an intact household, income is pooled together and spent in ways that benefit all household members, children included.

Under the Income Shares Model, the non-custodial parent’s income is added to the custodial parent’s income, making special note as to the size of each parent’s contribution.

  • Parent A makes $1,000 (33.33% of total combined income)
  • Parent B makes $2,000 (66.66% of total combined income)
  • Combined income for Parent A and Parent B is $3,000

The child support obligation is based on a predetermined statutory table or schedule. Added to this amount are expenses such as child care and extraordinary medical expenses. The presumptive child support obligation is prorated between the parents based on their percentage of combined income.

  • Basic obligation based on table is $500
  • Add $50 for child care expenses
  • The total amount due each month to support the child is $550
  • Parent B is the non-custodial parent and is responsible for paying 66.66% of the $550 total

Thirty-nine states, Guam and the Virgin Islands use this model:
Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, Guam, Virgin Islands.

The Percentage of Income Model

Only the non-custodial parent’s income is used to calculate child support in this model. The custodial parent’s income has no effect on the total awarded.

The actual size of the percentage varies by state and is affected by the number of children the number of children the non-custodial parent has (either adopted or biological) separate from the child or children in question.

  • Non-custodial parent earns $2,000 per month and has two children appearing before the court
  • He has two other children to support from his prior marriage
  • Using Texas’ Multiple Family Adjusted Guidelines, the judge orders support be set at 20.63% of the non-custodial parent’s income
  • $2,000 x 20.63% = $412.60 due per month in child support

Two variations exist of this model: The Flat Percentage Model and the Varying Percentage Model. A total of nine states use only the non-custodial parent’s income to order child support: Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. Of these nine, five use a flat percentage model that does not take other children born or adopted into account. These five are: Alaska, Illinois, Mississippi, Nevada and Wisconsin. The other three (Arkansas, North Dakota and Texas) use a varying percentage model.

A Hybrid Model

The District of Columbia uses a model that combines the varying percentage of income model and the income shares model.

The Melson Formula

Delaware, Hawaii and Montana use a more complex version of the income shares model called The Melson Formula. This formula factors in each parent’s needs, an allowance for standard of living, and many other factors.

Named for Judge Elwood F. Melson of the Delaware Family Court system, The Melson Formula is the only currently used formula that recognizes that supporting others is impossible if one’s own basic needs aren’t met.

This model breaks down to a six-step process:

  1. Meet the minimal support needs of both parents
  2. Provide primary financial support for the child
  3. Sum up all work-related childcare costs and other expenses
  4. Calculate the Standard of Living Allowance (SOLA)
  5. Take the sum of steps 1 – 4
  6. Use the percentage of the parents total net income to allocate support based on percentage of contribution

By far, The Melson Formula is the most complicated and extensive of all currently-used child support models. It’s also the most consistent.

Child Support By State

Need more info? Check out our list of state laws to help you calculate child support. Having this info ahead of you upcoming hearing can help you make changes to your budget before you’re due to send in your first payment.

Calculate child support ahead to stay apprised of costs related to health and childcare. Keep your eyes open for more cost effective solutions that could save you money in the long run.

In many states, the non-custodial parent isn’t responsible for paying for the child’s college tuition, and the child support order expires on your son or daughter’s 18th birthday. Make sure you check into term lengths in your state.

Keep in mind, however, that all the money in the world means absolutely nothing if you don’t make yourself a part of your children’s lives. They need more from you than a simple check in the mail. It’s in their best interests that you tend to their emotional and their physical needs.


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