The pressing questions about child support are:
How and when does one get a child support order?
How much should be paid for child support?
Where can I find support guidelines for my state?
Who can help establish or enforce a child support order?
How and when?
If you have minor children, then as part of getting a judgment (or decree) of divorce, legal separation or annulment, you’ll need to settle the amount that will be paid for child support. Unless the parents can agree to an amount, it will be settled by a judge after a hearing or trial in court.
You don’t have to spend even one more minute wondering or arguing about this question as the amount of child support has already been settled by guidelines in every state.
Mandatory child support guidelines. Every state now has child support guidelines that define the amount any judge in the state must award if the matter has to be decided in court. Parents can agree to any reasonable amount in a written settlement agreement, but if the matter of child support ends up in court, it will be decided according the child support guidelines for your state based on financial data proved to the judge by financial documents or other admissible evidence.
Additional support. In addition to guideline support, parents must arrange for health care for the child if it is available through the employment of either parent, and parents must share health care cost not covered by insurance equally (50/50) unless agreed otherwise by the parents.
Demonstrated financial data. Guidelines are based on income of the parents and, in some sates, certain expenses that can be deducted. A judge can only consider financial data that can be demonstrated by admissible documents (pay stubs and financial statements), so you can’t expect one parent to agree to financial claims of the other parent that can’t be supported by credible evidence.
If you show each other your financial records and apply the data to the guideline, there’s really nothing left to argue about. Why waste the money it costs to go to court if you already know what the judge will order?
Exception—Imputed income. If it can be shown in court that a parent is capable of earning more at a full-time job when such jobs are available, but chooses to work less or work at a lower-paying job, a judge could decide to set child support based on the amount the parent could be earning rather than actual income. For example, if a qualified mechanic lives where such jobs are available but chooses to make a bare living as a freelance writer, that parent should not be surprised if a judge figures support based on what a mechanic earns. In other words, you have to do your best for your child(ren).
Get the official guidelines for your state
California is a special case—see the section below.
For all other states, you should get the official child support guidelines for your state. For links to official child support information for every state, click here.
Share the guideline information with the other parent and show each other your financial records. You would have to do this in court if you end up there, so you might as well do it voluntarily without going to court. Apply the guidelines to data that can be documented and you’ve got the amount of support a judge would award. There is really nothing to argue about.
California is a special case
Because California guidelines are so incredibly complicated, all lawyers and judges use a $500 computer program to figure the correct guideline amount and lawyers charge a stiff fee each time they run the program. Most people want several runs, based on a variety of “what if” possibilities or when there are future changes in income or deductions. The results of a program cannot be used in court unless it has been certified accurate by the CA Judicial Council, so do not bother using an online program or any other service that has not been certified.
To help you get what you need, we created CalSupport, very affordable professional-quality software that has been certified by the Judicial Council, yet costs only $34.95 and is just as powerful as the professional software, only it is better: easier to use and easier to understand. For more about how to get the correct amount for guideline child support in California or for a trial version of CalSupport, click here.
Cautions for every state
Use only information and tools found on the official site for your state because you can’t be sure that information found on a private site is current or complete.
Do not use online calculators on private sites as you can’t be sure they are accurate. Our own CalSupport for California cases (above) is an exception, as it has been certified by the State of California since 1995. The online calculators for other states that we have seen on private sites have been incomplete and lack adequate instructions and guidance. For example, they might tell you to enter the “net income” for each parent without telling you how “net income” is defined in your state. Many states have a complex set of definitions for that figure. Many calculators do not include various deductions or exceptions that the state guidelines include.
Who can help establish and enforce child support orders?
Every state has an office charged with responsibility for establishing and collecting child support. If you have questions or want help with child support, this is the first place to call. If they are very busy, it might take some time to get assistance, but call and find out what they do and how they can help you. To view a table of links to official child support enforcement agencies for each state, click here. Some states have their more than one agency that can help you with establishing a child support order, so also call your county court clerk’s office and ask them for the name of the local office that helps people with child support issues.
Al Mckinnon says
I am 62, disabled and going blind from diabetes and soon to be homeless. My wife has our 11 year old son. She gets SSI and adoption money from Cal.. She wants me to pay child support. How poor can she leave me?
Nolo Press Occidental says
Have you followed the advice in the last paragraph of this post (Who can help establish and enforce child support orders?) to try and get some help, and the answer to your question?