How is child support calculated among the 50 states?

It may come as a surprise, but one of the more confusing issues to emerge for many people going through a divorce is not property division or alimony, but rather child support.

This confusion can typically be attributed to the seemingly complex calculations that must be performed, the lengthy guidelines that must be consulted and the otherwise arcane language employed by the courts in these matters.

A good starting place to help alleviate some of this confusion is to understand that there are three different types of child support models among the 50 states.

  • Income shares model: This child support model is currently employed by 38 states, including right here in Georgia. It is guided by the belief that in most households any income earned by parents is shared and spent in a way that benefits all members, including children. As such, it holds that children are entitled to the same proportion of parental income that they would have otherwise received had their parents not divorced, and that the incomes of both the custodial and the noncustodial parents should therefore be considered in determining the amount of child support.
  • Percentage of income model: This child support model is currently employed by nine states. It differs considerably from the income shares model in that income of the custodial parent is not accounted for in any capacity. Instead, child support is essentially a set percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income.
  • Melson formula model: This child support model is currently employed by only three states, acting as a sort of modified version of the income shares model. Specifically, it accounts not only for the basic needs of the child, but also for the basic needs of each parent.  

In future posts, we’ll examine the income shares model in greater detail and discuss the rather surprising results of a recently published study designed to uncover more about public attitudes toward the child support laws here in the U.S.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns about child support — securing payments, enforcement, modification — consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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