How is the amount of my child support order set?

Answer

All states have official child support guidelines. The guidelines are used to calculate how much a parent should contribute to financially support his or her child. State agencies and courts must use the guidelines unless they are shown to be inappropriate in a particular case.

Most state guidelines consider, at a minimum, the needs of the child, other dependents, and the ability of the parents to pay. Federal law requires every child support order to address how parents will provide for their child’s health care needs. To learn more about medical support, take a look at the Child Support Handbook.

Some states use an income-shares model, which means the guidelines are based on the total income of both parents.  Other states use a percentage model that calculates the child support amount only on the income of the noncustodial parent.  The percentage model assumes that the custodial parent is contributing toward the child’s needs by providing care, food, clothing, and shelter.

Visit the Intergovernmental Reference Guide, select your state on the map, and look under “Support Details” to find information about child support guidelines in your state. The Child Support Handbook also has information on guidelines and establishing a child support order.

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