What is Child Support?

Child support refers to court-ordered, periodic, and ongoing payments made by a parent to financially support a minor child following the end of a marriage or similar relationship. This parental contribution is paid to provide for a child’s basic living expenses, like food, health care, and education. These payments are paid directly to the primary custodial parent of the child, meaning the person who is responsible for the child by law. In most states, a parent is not obligated to pay child support once the child reaches the age of 18.

Individual state laws determine child support policies such as who is required to pay it, the amount that needs to be paid, and for how long it will be paid. Once child support is court-ordered, it can be changed or revoked only with court approval. The payments are not tax-deductible for the paying party nor included as taxable income for the receiving party.

Generally, parents do not need to be married to file for child support. However, some states require proof of parentage (such as a DNA test).

Key Takeaways

  • Child support is defined as financial support paid from one parent to another for the care of a shared child.
  • The guidelines for child support including how long and how much should be paid depend on the state laws.
  • Child support is not tax deductible and is not taxable income.
  • The payments cease when the child is no longer considered a minor, usually at age 18 years old. 

How is Child Support Determined?

Each state has its own laws, but there are some typical factors that affect how child support is calculated, including the income of the parents and how much visitation the child has with each parent. Keeping that in mind, there are a

few different formulas used by the court when determining child support:


  1. Income Shares Model - This model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same amount of financial support that he or she would have received if the parents lived together. The incomes of both parents are analyzed to determine the amount. This common method of calculating child support is used in 41 states.
  2. Percentage of Income Model - In this model the amount of child support is a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income. The custodial parent’s income is not considered in these cases. The percentage can be applied in two variations: as a flat rate or varying rate. Six states use the percentage of income models.
  3. Melson Formula - the Melson Formula is designed to ensure that in addition to the children, the parents must also have enough income to meet their own financial needs. According to this model, parents do not retain more income than required to meet their basic needs, and the child is entitled to any additional income. The Melson Formula is applied only in Delaware, Hawaii and Montana. 

Bottom Line

To summarize, child support is money paid from one parent to the other for the purpose of financially supporting a minor child. Navigating the ins and outs of child support can be complex, so legal representation is recommended while dealing with these issues. A good family lawyer that specializes in child support will advocate for your case and prioritize you and your child’s interests and needs.

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