Every parent has a legal duty to contribute financially to his minor children's basic needs, and this responsibility does not end at divorce. Generally, if you earn significantly more money than your spouse does, you are required to make monthly payments to her to help her meet the children's needs. But the amount you owe may differ depending on the formula used by your state.
Child Support Determination
The amount you will pay in child support has nothing to do with your performance as a spouse or a parent, and a large sum doesn't mean that you somehow are at fault. Your children require a home and nurture as well as medical care and other necessities of life, and, as one parent, you are legally bound to contribute to those expenses to the extent your income allows. If you can work out with the other parent an appropriate and reasonable amount, the odds are that the judge will accept this. If not, the court determines the amount by using the child support calculation formula adapted in your state. Each state formula may have its own peculiarities, but they basically fall into two types: income shares and percentage of income.
Percentage of Income Child Support Model
If you live in a state using the percentage of income child support model, the non-custodial parent pays a flat percentage of his income as child support without taking into account the income of the other parent. This percentage rises depending on how many minor children are in the family. Currently, these states use the percentage of income model: Alaska, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Using Alaska as an example, a noncustodial parent pays 20 percent of his adjusted gross income for one child, 27 percent for two children, 33 percent for three children, and 3 percent more for each additional child.
The adjustments permitted to income, the minimum annual child support and the cap of the adjusted gross income amount vary among the states. In Alaska, the minimum child support allotment is $600 per year, and the maximum adjusted gross income amount is $120,000.
State law varies as to how to factor in shared custody arrangements under this formula. In addition, provision of medical insurance and certain other expenses are added on to the base child support amount.
Income Shares Child Support Formula
Most of the rest of the states follow a child support formula based on income shares, reflecting the concept that the children should have access to the same proportion of parental income they would have benefited from had the parents stayed together. Under this approach, the court first figures out how much money is required for the children's support, then that amount is divided among the two parents based on their respective income. For example, if the family law judge determines that the children must have $4,000 a month to meet their needs and maintain their lifestyle, and the father and mother earn $200,000 and $50,000 respectively, the father must pay 3/4 of this amount, or $3,000 per month for their care.
The parent with primary custody does not pay herself. She is presumed to pay her share due to the fact that the children live with her most of the time. State law provisions vary in applying this formula to joint custody arrangements.
Delaware, Hawaii and Montana follow a variation of this model termed the Melson formula. It tweaks the formula slightly to take into account each parent's basic needs as well as those of the children.