How a Family Court Judge Decides Child Support During Divorce



Parents who are divorcing may wonder how a judge will determine child support. While the parents can establish a child support order themselves and then propose it to the judge, chances are, in the midst of divorce they will be fighting to keep every penny. All in all, the judge is going to evaluate each parent’s circumstances, calculate a child support amount based on state law, and ensure that it meets the needs of the child. 


What to Know About State Guidelines

Every state uses a certain formula for calculating child support payments. Family court judges often use these complicated formulas, but the biggest factor is how much each parent earns. Some states may consider each parent’s income, while others prioritize the earnings of the noncustodial parent. The percent of time that both parents have with the children is another influential factor.

It can be difficult to know for sure what the family court judge will conclude, but the majority of states consider the following as most important when calculating child support:


  • Which parent is paying for the child’s health insurance
  • Which parent is funding daycare costs
  • The age of the child or children
  • If either parent is responsible for taking care of children from a previous marriage
  • If either parent is paying child support from a previous marriage
  • If either parent is receiving alimony or child support from a previous marriage
  • If either parent has to pay union dues or has other expenses taken out of their paychecks on a consistent basis 


Why Judges May Set an Amount Higher or Lower

A family court judge may decide to set the child support amount higher or lower than what is calculated in the formula, based on special circumstances. Each spouse should bring documentation to the hearing that supports their position in the child support case, including financial paperwork, visitation schedules, bills they currently pay in related to the child, and anything else relevant. Examples of reasons why the judge may set a higher or lower amount include: 


  • The amount calculated by the formula is more than what is needed to sufficiently care for the child
  • The noncustodial parent makes enough money to afford paying more
  • The paying parent is unable to afford the amount calculated by the formula
  • The child has special needs (educational, medical, or psychological)
  • The paying parent’s earnings don’t reflect their true earning potential 


A child that has special medical needs may require a much higher amount of financial support from the paying parent. A child that needs to attend a certain school because of a disability is likely to need more than what the state formula for child support would conclude. The family court judge can set the amount higher or lower based on what will enable the child to have their needs met as they grow older. It is imperative that both parents are forthcoming and honest about their earnings so that the child can live the best life possible.


If you or someone you know has questions about child support, contact a child support lawyer, like a child support lawyer in Rockville, MD, today. 


Thanks to the Law Office of Daniel J. Wright for their insight into some of the factors that go into calculating child support after a divorce.