Every child has the right to financial support from their parents until they reach the age of majority, which is between eighteen and twenty-one, depending on the state. 


In almost every case, the parent who has the children less than fifty percent of the time will pay child support to the other parent. There are exceptions. Some parents split child-rearing time 50-50 and make almost the same amount of money. Other times, the parent who spends the majority of time with the children earns more money. In these cases, it’s unlikely that either parent will be paying child support.

How do courts determine how much a parent must pay in child support

How do courts determine how much a parent must pay in child support?

Unlike most areas of law, family law is incredibly intuitive and practical. All states require the divorcing spouses to follow “child support guidelines,” which weigh many factors relating to the child’s needs and expenses. Although different states ay consider different factors, courts generally will look at: 

  1. the needs of the child, 
  2. the standard of living established by the parents, 
  3. each parent’s income and overall financial situation, 
  4. the earning capacity of both parents, and
  5. the age of the child. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and the judge may look at several other factors. Each state has its specific guidelines.


What constitutes income for purposes of child support?

The following is a list of several sources of revenue that most courts consider to be “income” for determining child support:

  1. Hourly wages and salaries (including tips and overtime)
  2. Alimony payments received
  3. Stock dividends
  4. Royalties
  5. Income from rental properties
  6. Social Security benefits
  7. Pension and retirement plan benefits, military and unemployment benefits, government subsidies, gifts and prizes, and trust disbursements

What constitutes income for purposes of child support

Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: Jacob Lund

Is it true that men always pay child support?

Historically, men were the breadwinners. Consequently, men were tacitly assigned the duty of paying child support. Today, however, courts take a “gender-neutral” stance regarding who must pay child support. 


Section 309 of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act (UMDA), a guidepost that many states have adopted some variant on, gives trial courts discretion to order either or both parents to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child’s support. Typically today, the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have physical custody of the child) is required to pay child support to the custodial parent. 


Consider this example: Jack and Jill have one child, Timmy. Jack works at a local restaurant making minimum wage. Jill, on the other hand, just finished her medical residency and earns over $200,000 per year as an emergency room doctor. Given her long hours during school and now in the hospital, her relationship with Timmy is distant, at best. Jack has filed for divorce and was awarded custody of Timmy. Consequently, Jill will be required to pay child support to Jack.


When does child support end?

Criteria vary from state to state. However, a parent’s duty to pay child support ends when  

  1. A court emancipates the child
  2. The child finishes high school
  3. The child gets married 
  4. The child enters the armed forces
  5. The child reaches the age of majority.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. If you require legal advice, please contact a licensed attorney in your local area.