How to budget for child support

Paying child support is a lot like paying taxes. You can’t get out of paying it (even if you’ve declared bankruptcy, child support is not exempt), and figuring out the right amount is not an exact science. To properly budget for child support, you need to know how much you make, and you need to cooperate with your ex, who may also be responsible for payments.

Legal guidelines vary by each state, but child support payments are determined based on both parents’ incomes, living expenses, and the child(ren)’s needs. You first need to figure out your net income, or how much money you make each month after taxes are taken out. If you are self-employed, child support payments may be based on gross income, or everything made before taxes, because the money you make is more difficult to document. Additional deductions a judge may factor into the payments include union dues, retirement contributions (a 401(k), for example), and obligations of support to other people.

It is important to figure out both parents’ incomes because a judge may depart from the state’s guidelines. In one case, just one of the parents (the obligor, or “non-custodial parent”) will be ordered to pay an amount to the “custodial parent.” In the other situation, a judge may use the income shares model, based on the incomes of both parents. If there is a large disparity between the parents’ incomes (a 5:1 ratio, for example), the obligor guideline will likely be enacted. If parents’ incomes are close, the judge may determine child support payments based on both incomes. The amount of money involved will also be larger if more children are involved. Because each state is different and each judge is also different, the exact amount you have to pay may be different each month.

It is equally important to determine the amount of expenses going toward your child(ren) each month. Food, clothing, daycare, education expenses, and anything else need to be logged into a database, so you can have a better grasp on what your subsequent child support payments will be. Once again, the model used may end up determining an estimate rather than an exact amount to pay, and it would be wisest for you to document exactly how much you make and how much you pay.

At, I found a child support calculator for each state. The calculator is an educational tool, and it does not constitute legal advice. However, it can be a way to plug in numbers and get an estimate of what you may have to contribute in the future. Figures involved include number of children involved, gross (or net) monthly incomes of custodial and non-custodial parents, amount of health insurance paid each month, and any applicable monthly daycare payments. Child support involves cooperating with your former significant other and using all available resources, and knowing what you have will make it easier to know what you will have to give.

David Pilley

David Pilley

David Pilley is a May 2010 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a B.A. in communication studies and a creative writing minor. He is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina.

He played clarinet for the Marching Tar Heels in 2005 and 2006. He also volunteered for STV, the student-run television station at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the spring of 2010. He shot video, wrote scripts, and acted for “Off the Cuff,” UNC’s longest running sketch comedy show. He has the rare distinction of having lived in a dorm all four years of his undergraduate college career. He was also on Franklin Street on the night of April 4, 2009. His future plans are to pursue a master’s degree in journalism and to one day work for the media as a sports journalist or broadcaster.

Being one of eight children, David realizes finance is an important topic to everyone, regardless of his/her knowledge of the subject. His interests are in personal finance, budgeting, and savings.

In his spare time, David enjoys watching sports and standup comedy, as well as doing crossword puzzles and writing in the first person. He also thoroughly enjoys trivia and, one day, hopes to participate on the game show Jeopardy!, where he will try to break Ken Jennings’ 74-game win streak.
David Pilley

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