In accordance with the federal Child Support Enforcement Act, each state has developed specific guidelines to calculate a range of child support to be paid, based on the parents’ respective incomes and expenses. Each state’s guidelines vary considerably, meaning that in virtually identical situations, the child support ordered in one state may be far more or less than that ordered in another state. Judges in some states are allowed a considerable amount of leeway in setting the actual amount, while other states have very strict guidelines that leave judges with very little leeway.
Regardless of the judge’s latitude, there are statewide guidelines put in place that specify factors that must be considered in determining who pays how much child support. These factors include:
When one parent does not work
When income is received on an irregular, non-recurring, or one-time basis, the court may average or prorate the income over a specified period of time or require an obligor to pay as child support a percentage of his or her non-recurring income that is equivalent to the percentage of his or her recurring income paid for child support.
Potential or Imputed Income: If the court finds that a parent’s voluntary unemployment or underemployment is the result of the parent’s bad faith or deliberate suppression of income, child support may be calculated based on the parent’s potential income. If a parent has no recent work history or vocational training, potential income should not be less than the minimum hourly wage for a forty hour work week.
Third party consideration
Guidelines do not apply to child support orders against stepparents or other persons or agencies who are secondarily liable for child support. They may, however, be a small factor to consider in offsetting some expenses that a parent would have otherwise been responsible for.
Maxed out guidelines
There are cases in which the parents’ combined adjusted gross income is more than 300,000 a year. When income exceeds this threshold, the normal child support schedule is maxed out. Inn cases that involve very high incomes, the courts will need to set the award on their own. When setting this award, the court must ensure that the amount of the award meets the reasonable needs of the child.