Legal How-To: Using a Child Support Calculator

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It may be a surprise to some recent divorcees, but child support can take a large -- and mandatory -- chunk out of any parent's annual income.

Most states have resources available to give parents a ballpark figure for child potential child support payments. Each resource, however, requires a bit of background knowledge about how child support works.

Here is a general overview of how a parent can navigate and successfully use a child support calculator to get a better idea of her future child support obligations:

State Child Support Calculators

Most state websites offer a free child support calculator online. There are also sites that link to free support calculators for all jurisdictions.

Some states, like California, use fairly comprehensive calculators that take into account state family laws. The more complex the calculator, the more difficult it may be for you to understand without a lawyer's help.

In all cases, state-sponsored or third-party child support calculators are simply estimations of what a parent's child support obligations may be. An actual child support payment schedule can be based on these estimations; but payments can also be based on an agreement between the two parents for a wildly different number, or even a judge's own calculation of child support.

So if these calculators do not churn out a legally binding child support number, why use them at all?

Getting Your Baselines

Using a child support calculator isn't mandatory, but it can provide a parent the opportunity to gather her financial resources to complete the calculation. This information will be useful when negotiating with another parent or speaking with a family court judge.

Important information to get a handle on include:

  • Tax filing status. Determining whether a parent is filing as "single," "head of household," or "married" on state and federal taxes will impact her obligations for child support.
  • Gross income. Each state's guidelines contain definitions for gross income for child support purposes which includes money from almost any source.
  • Alimony/spousal support. If a parent is already paying spousal support to the custodial parent, it can be deducted from her income.
  • Time spent with the child. The fewer days per month you spend with a child in your custody, the greater your child support obligations may be.
  • Health insurance. Does a parent have it, and does it cover her children? Insurance or not, parents are still on the hook for uninsured medical expenses.

Need More Help?

While these calculators are a good stepping stone toward reaching a child support amount, no parent should enter into a child support agreement without first consulting an experienced child support attorney who knows the laws in your state. Check out our online lawyer directory to find a child support lawyer near you.

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