Child Support FAQ
What is child support?
Child support is money one parent pays the other to meet the needs of a child. Needs may include food, shelter, clothing, health insurance, medical costs, education and child care. The amount of child support is based on the income of both parents.
How long does child support last?
In most circumstances, until your child is age 21 or until college graduation.
What if parents have joint custody?
Joint custody is common when both parents live locally. Joint custody may or may not affect child support.
With joint legal custody, both parents share major decisions regarding the child, but the he or she spends more time with one parent, who is still the primary caregiver and handles payment of most of the child’s day-to-day expenses. That parent’s expenses for the child have not been reduced by the joint custody arrangement.. Therefore, joint legal custody may have no effect on child support.
With joint physical custody, the child spends similar time with each parent. If the parents have approximately equal incomes, it is possible neither parent will have to pay support to the other. Each parent will pay the child’s day-to-day expenses when the child is in their respective home. The parents still need to coordinate payments on major expenses such as camp, school, clothing, and insurance.
If there is a significant difference in the parents’ incomes, the parent with higher income probably will make payments to the other parent or pay more of the child’s expenses, but the amount paid might be less than the guideline amount because of the joint physical custody arrangement.
How much will it be?
Child support is based on both parents’ income per year and the number of children.
Here is the basic formula for incomes up to a “ceiling” of $143,000 in my state, New York:
(Combined Income) x (Child Support %) = Basic Support Obligation
Income for this calculation is gross income on the most recent federal income tax return, minus Medicare, FICA and NYC tax deductions. The “Child Support Percentage” ranges from 17-35%, depending on the number of children.
You may access the basic NY calculator here. Note that there are many reasons why the final support number determined may vary from the formula.
What if Our Incomes are Higher Than the “Ceiling”?
If the combined income is more than $143,000, the court could use the same formula for all income or choose to set a “ceiling” for income to be applied to the formula. That ceiling could be much greater than $143,000 for very high-income couples.
What Are “Add Ons”?
In addition to the basic child support obligation, additional payments to cover child care costs (if the custodial parent is working or in school), health care expenses, school, camp, or other major expenses may be required. These payments are prorated at the same percentage as the support obligation (for example, 80% and 20%).
Using the formula to quickly calculate child support based on income is a good pace to start, but parents must also consider expected expenses in detail, and make adjustments to child support as necessary.
Couples may agree to an amount different from the formula. This may also be negotiated through mediation, collaborative divorce or their attorneys.
Agreements are not valid until approved by the court. It must state what the basic child support obligation would have been, and why your agreement should be adopted instead. In court, a judge would consider other factors in addition to the formula when determining child support.
Each state may have different laws, formulas, or guidelines for support payments pertaining to divorce. Your attorney can provide advice and calculations based on your unique situation. I am not an attorney and I do not provide legal advice.