Because the methods for calculating child support vary by state, it’s easy to have misconceptions about your financial obligations and how child support is actually awarded.
While most states will look solely at the net or gross income of parents, the majority of states follow some variation of one of three models:
Percentage of Income Model
This model looks only at the income of the obligor (the noncustodial parent). If you live in a state that follows the Percentage of Income Model, a percentage of your income will be earmarked for child support. Alaska, Illinois, Nevada, and North Dakota are some of the states that follow this model to determine child support.
Income Shares Model
The idea that a child is entitled to receive support in the same proportion as if their parents were living together is the basis of the Income Shares Model. Generally speaking, when parents live together, their income is combined in order to pay for the needs of their children.
Under this model, courts will consider the incomes of both the custodial and noncustodial parents to determine a support order. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and New Hampshire are some of the states that follow the Income Shares Model.
The Melson Formula
This model is the most complicated of the three and is used the least by states in calculating child support. Under this model, a court will look to make sure the custodial and noncustodial parents’ needs are being met along with the children’s needs. Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana are the states that have adopted the Melson Formula.
Keeping the Best Interest of Children in Mind
No matter what formula or model states adopt for determining child support, courts will always consider the needs of children to be paramount, that is, more important than anything else.
So what exactly does that mean?
It means that courts will consider a noncustodial parent’s ability to earn versus what they’re earning when making a child support determination. In other words, a parent in a high-paying position cannot quit that job in favor of a lower paying, part-time job. If this happens, courts will often consider the noncustodial parent’s income in their former position versus their current income.
So, if you purposefully take a cut in pay or hours in order to have more flexibility to pursue an education, a court will likely determine your ability to pay based on your previous salary. The general consensus is, the needs and best interests of children come before a parent’s personal goals, wants, or desires.
The Importance of Being Prepared
Whether headed for divorce or in the middle of one, parents who are prepared for custody and child support investigations before they are launched are better equipped to fight for arrangements that keep their best interests and that of their children in mind.