Judges take into account many different factors in setting child support payments. The factors that influence a judge’s decision to set support payments at a certain amount vary depending upon state law. Some states provide judges with a wide latitude in setting support payments. Other states constrain judges to a simple calculation based upon the income of the non-custodial parent.
This article will examine some of the factors taken into account when the court decides how much in child support is paid by one parent to the other. Keep in mind that state laws play a major role in the final decision. If you have questions related to child support, it is advisable that you consult an attorney with practical experience in family law.
Factors Involving Non-Custodial Parents
While state law varies on the matter, the income of the paying, or non-custodial, parent is a crucial factor in almost every jurisdiction. Even if the statutory analysis does not confine the court to an assessment of the non-custodial parent’s (NCP’s) income, income is still likely to be considered. Courts take into account the ability of the NCP to make support payments as one of the most important factors.
From the court’s perspective, an ability to pay is foundational for any payments to be made in the first place. Moreover, the non-custodial parent’s income is highly indicative of the lifestyle to which both parents and the child had been accustomed prior to the divorce. If the NCP is under any current financial restraints such as wage garnishments, the court will consider that in assessing his or her income.
In setting support payments, most courts will also consider the paying parent’s overall living situation. This entails a careful analysis of household expenses, including utilities, repairs, automobile expenses, existing debt, and the presence of other members of the household. A household with a high income and low expenses can typically accommodate hefty support payments.
Some states utilize a simplistic analysis that is based largely upon the NCP’s ability to pay. However, most states permit the court to engage in a more comprehensive analysis.
Factors Involving Custodial Parents And The Child
Most courts will also consider the custodial parent’s ability to support the child without assistance from the non-custodial parent. As is the case with the latter, most courts will consider the custodial parent’s overall living situation. This includes income not only from employment, but also alimony from prior marriages and irregular income such as bonuses and side employment. Household expenses aside from child-rearing expenses may also be included in this analysis.
Some courts take into account the expenses required to raise the child in setting support payments. Child-rearing expenses such as clothing, school supplies, food, health care, and day care are considered by the court in most states. These courts will often take into account the expected lifestyle that the child would have had had the couple remained married. If the child attends private schools and is accustomed to expensive tutors, a court may increase the payments accordingly.
Analyses that include the financial situations of both the custodial and non-custodial parents will usually involve a comparison between the two. If the former is wealthy while the latter is indigent, a court may reduce support payments down to a low level. If the custodial parent is indigent while the non-custodial parent is wealthy, a court may order large support payments.
Generally, factors affecting support payment amounts involve an analysis of the incomes and expenses of each parent. Those numbers are weighed against a formula that is designed to produce an outcome that is in the best interests of the child.
Parents are expected to support their children. If one parent is paying for a child’s school, health care, day care, and food, a court is likely to order the non-paying parent to compensate the other for these expenses. At the same time, courts understand that maintaining two households at the same standard of living as the one prior to a divorce is often impossible. Allowances are made accordingly.