How Is Child Support Calculated?

Divorce is rough. The emotional toll it takes is hard enough, but when two people can’t agree on how to dissolve a relationship, legal matters make things even more difficult. Then there’s the matter of the whole family unit. Everyone wants what’s best for their children, but there may still be some anxiety over decisions on child support and how that will affect the lives of the adults.

How is child support calculated? The answer varies from state to state, and it can get complicated. Most child support models, at their root, take several factors into account.

First, one must consider the wellbeing of the child. What physical and emotional needs must be met? What standard of living would the child be reasonably expected to have if the parents had stayed together?

Next, financial resources are considered. How much money is brought in by each of the former partners? What are the expected expenses of caring for the children? When calculating child support, there are a few different models that states use.

Child Support Models

The Income Shares Model

Most states use the Income Shares Model of child support. In its simplest form, the Income Shares Model takes the overall income of both parents into account. From there, it breaks up that income into percentages.

Jim and Jane have a combined income of $5,000. Jane brings in $3,500 of that amount, or 70%. Jim contributes $1,500, which is 30%. Essentially, Jane will be expected to contribute 70% of the overall child support, and Jim will be expected to pay 30%

The Percentage of Income Model

The Percentage of Income Model looks at the income of the non-custodial parent. Based on the specifics of the family – number of children, expected expenses, etc. – a percentage is applied to the non-custodial parent’s income. If, for example, it is determined that 20% of expenses should be used for the children, the parent will be asked to pay that much of their income in child support. Only six U.S. states use this model.

The Melson Model

The Melson Model is a hybrid of the other two models and is designed to make sure the basic needs of the parent are met first, then the needs of the dependent. After basic needs are covered, this model gives the dependent a share of any left-over income.

While the models themselves seem simple, reaching the child-support dollar amount itself is still difficult. There are tons of formulas that can be used, and each state has its own. These formulas take incomes into account, which can be gross or net, and net incomes can be totaled after deductions OR after expenses. Numbers of children; medical expenses; whether or not a parent is already receiving child support from someone else; and any number of other factors can also contribute to the final child-support decision. In fact, there are several websites that offer child-support calculators to give someone an idea of what they can expect to pay in their state.

Calculating Child Support in the State of Colorado

Using an Income Shares Model, the state of Colorado includes several factors when calculating child support. First, the state looks at the combined income of both parents. “Income” in Colorado includes gross income or “potential” income. Potential income is used if a parent is unemployed, “underemployed,” or looking for work. The court considers the parent’s work history; whether or not the parent is in school; job skills and history; the local job market; and any other factor that may result in that parent’s ability to get a new job. Potential income shows what this parent stands to make when they secure work, and the court makes a determination based on that estimate.

The state then looks at whether or not a partner is already receiving or paying child support or spousal support. The partner currently paying spousal support or child support deducts that amount from their gross income. The partner currently receiving these benefits has that total added to their income.

The parents’ combined incomes – along with daycare costs; health and medical expenses; educational expenses; custody; and any “extraordinary expenses” – are then calculated into worksheets, and a final total is reached.

If there is a “substantial and continuing change of circumstances,” it is possible to go back to court to renegotiate child-support obligations.

Calculating child support can be complicated, but it needn’t be scary. If someone just finds out which of the three standard models their state uses; tries an online child support calculator; and talks to their lawyer, it should be easy for them to find some peace of mind.

If you’re worried about how to calculate child support in a divorce, we are here to help. Consultations are free and there’s no risk involved, so call today at (303) 647-4245 or contact us online.