Basic Child Support Guidelines and State Calculators

Child support is paid by the noncustodial parent to ensure that their children have what they need to live a comfortable life. Child support laws and enforcement differ from state to state, but in all regions and jurisdictions, non-custodial parents must pay according to the court’s child support order or face legal consequences.

There are roughly three child support guideline models used by the states:
The Income Shares Model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together. In an intact household, the income of both parents is generally pooled and spent for the benefit of all household members, including any children.

The Percentage of Income Model sets support as a percentage of only the noncustodial parent’s income; the custodial parent’s income is not considered. This model has two variations: the Flat Percentage Model and the Varying Percentage Model.

The Melson Formula is a more complicated version of the Income Shares Model, which incorporates several public policy judgments designed to insure that each parent’s basic needs are met in addition to the children’s. The Melson Formula was developed by a Delaware Family Court judge and fully explained in Dalton v. Clanton, 559 A.2d 1197 (Del. 1989).

All of the guideline models have certain aspects in common. First, most of the guidelines incorporate a “self-support” reserve for the obliger. Second, all the guidelines have a provision relating to imputed income. Third, by federal regulation, all the guidelines take into consideration the health care expenses for the children, by insurance or other means. Lastly, most of the guidelines have incorporated into the presumptive child support formula special additions for child care expenses, special formulas for shared custody, split custody, and extraordinary visitation, and special deductions for the support of previous and subsequent children.