If child support is being discussed, it means there is a family breaking apart, and it can be a heartbreaking event – both for the parents and the children.

As everything is being split between the parties, and custody of the children is being negotiated or decided, the issue of child support will invariably come up. Many child-support decisions are often as much an art form as they are a science of math.

What is Child Support?

After parents divorce and custody is decided, child support is usually cash from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help provide basic needs to the children from the marriage. This money is often paid monthly or in a frequency determined by the court, and it is required to have a written court order which is enforceable.

This is different from alimony or spousal support – alimony is usually not legally binding by a court order, while child support is binding. If you miss a child-support payment, the custodial parent may move to have you arrested and jailed, whereas a missed alimony payment may just mean a new court hearing to face admonition by the court.

How is Child Support Determined?

Child support takes into account the incomes of the two parents, the standard of living by which the children lived while the parents were together, and the cost of living in the area where the children are living with the custodial parent. It is meant to be a reasonable amount which the non-custodial parent would contribute to the raising of the child in an assumption that the family was still together.

How is Income Defined?

The formula for determining child support is based on a number of factors and variables, but in many jurisdictions, the definition of “income” for the purposes of determining child support can be fairly uniform.

Some states have exceptions to this, but under the guidelines of federal law, income by the non-custodial parent to determine child support is based on the “gross income” model, which takes into account any and every income source:

  • Salaries and tips;
  • Military benefits;
  • Pensions;
  • Investment/retirement account benefits;
  • Proceeds from insurance policies;
  • A trust or inheritance;
  • Alimony payments from a former spouse who is not the custodial parent in the current case;
  • Capital gains or interest payments from investments, among others.

Some states may go with an adjusted income model, where one-time or intermittent payments may be excluded from the income calculation.

Do the Legal Math

To ensure that child support is handled in a reasonable fashion but in a way that benefits the child and does not punish either parent, employ the expertise of a quality family-law attorney to stand up for your rights as a parent in caring for a child – whether you have custody or not.