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Amounts and Guidelines

Courts, and parents, are guided in the amount of support payments required by state law child support guidelines. The amount is typically ordered in the form of a percentage of gross or net income. The guidelines also take into account the number of children being supported. However, the guidelines are just that guidelines. Depending on the facts and evidence, the court may award more or less support. The guidelines differ among the states but the range is generally a minimum of 20 percent of income to support one child up to 50 percent where there are six or more children.

TIP: Parents sharing joint custody or joint managing conservatorship of children typically do not pay child support to each other where the child lives with them on an equal basis.

SIDEBAR: When both parents have income, the calculation of a monthly support amount is based on the total income. However, the parent earning more money still pays support; it is just reduced by the percentage of her husband's income that contributed to calculating the monthly amount. For instance, if the monthly payment should be $1,000 based on both parent's income combined, but the mother is earning 75 percent of the combined income, she pays $750 in child support.

Can I make one lump sum payment instead of paying monthly child support?

Yes. The court can order child support paid in almost any form, including lump sum payments, property held in trust, or the purchase of an annuity.

Will my ex-husband be ordered to pay child support if he is purposely unemployed?

Yes. Parents who purposely limit their earnings will not obtain a decreased child support obligation. The court has the authority to order a payment amount commensurate with the income the parent has the capacity to earn or has earned in the past. Your husband's monthly obligation will not be decreased and if he fails to pay, his child support payments will quickly fall into arrears.

SIDEBAR: A finding of "underemployment" requires evidence that the parent is purposely not earning more in order to avoid child support increases. A parent is under no duty to earn more money just because she can she has the right to continue her employment in her current capacity.

My ex-wife's earnings are not large but she receives other forms of income. Do her other sources of income factor into the child support calculation?

Yes. The court uses income from all sources to calculate the net resources from which child support must be paid. For instance, royalty payments your wife receives are counted towards her net resources.

TIP: Earnings or income from employment can include amounts other than what is reflected on a paycheck. The court considers commissions, overtime pay, tips, bonuses, dividends, interest income, trust income, annuities, unemployment and disability income and retirement income.

I added $500 to my last child support check because I received a Christmas bonus. Am I entitled to a credit on the next check?

Under some laws, you may be allowed to decrease the next check by $500. You are not required to characterize the extra amount as a gift; it can be an advance payment on future monthly payments. Of course, you should notify your ex-spouse before you take the credit or at the time you make the advance payment.

We are deciding between which of three private schools our son will attend next year, so the exact amount of tuition is uncertain. Can the court order my ex-husband to pay 50% of the tuition as part of his child support obligation, rather than state a specific amount?

No. The amount of child support cannot be speculative. The child support order must contain specific amounts. You should estimate the tuition and have the court require payment of half that figure.

Is child support automatically increased for inflation or other probable increases in expenses?

No. If expenses change, the court must be presented with proof of the change, and the child support will be modified accordingly. The support cannot be based on an unpredictable future event, such as a statement that interest rates may go up and your mortgage is on an adjustable note.

Can I take a break from paying child support during the summer when the children are living with me?

No. Typically, child support is calculated on an annual basis, and payments are spread throughout the year. Your obligation has already been determined by the court, and the court took into consideration that you would have the children during the summer. The fact the children are living with you does not extinguish your obligation.

My ex-husband is filing bankruptcy. Does he still have to pay child support?

Yes. Your ex-husband's obligation to pay child support cannot be discharged. He cannot be released from this debt in the same way that a credit card debt is discharged.

TIP: The ongoing bankruptcy may delay child support payments.

Does an ex-spouse who is in jail have to pay child support?

Yes; however, since the ex-spouse is not earning any money, there are typically no funds available to pay child support.

TIP: Some prison systems attempt to provide inmates with jobs so that some funds are available for child support payments. For information concerning families with a relative who is incarcerated, go to the Family and Corrections network at

My ex-wife has put property in her parent's name to avoid paying off child support arrears. Is there anything I can do?

Yes. Your ex-wife is making a fraudulent transfer or conveyance by placing property in someone else's name to avoid her legal obligation. You should contact your local or state child support agency to determine how to pursue an action to set aside the fraudulent transfers.

I have no idea where my ex-husband is living. He owes for many months of child support and is probably not working. Is there anything I can do to enforce the child support order?

Other than contacting the local or state agency responsible for enforcing child support orders and giving them whatever information you have on your ex-husband, the order cannot currently be enforced. Since your ex-husband's whereabouts are unknown, the child support order is, unfortunately, difficult to enforce.

TIP: Give the agency the names and addresses of all relatives with whom the person owing child support may be living, including current and past friends. It is difficult for a person to completely hide or disappear without the help of family or friends.

TIP: A person's location can be tracked through Social Security information if that person is currently employed and not being paid in cash.

TIP: Additional information is available on the Office of Child Enforcement website at

SIDEBAR: The U.S. Passport office will deny passports to persons owing child support amounts exceeding $5,000. Any person in the Passport Denial Program can no longer use their passport.

Increase or decrease in amount

Support is increased depending on the needs of the child, along with a parent's ability to pay more than called for in the guidelines. Children involved in many activities, attending camps, driving, taking music lessons, etc., may require more support if it is in their best interests to maintain that lifestyle. If the parent can afford it, the child's lifestyle should not be diminished because sufficient support is not ordered. Similarly, if the parent's income has increased significantly since the support order was entered, the court may increase the support payments owed by that parent. However, the parent can argue that the children do not require excessive support.

On the other hand, a parent may not be able to pay an amount that covers his support obligation under the guidelines. The father, for instance, may have other children to support, be disabled, unemployed, or have debts or judgments against him.

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