How Is the Amount of Child Support Usually Determined?

The amount of child support that a court sets in any case depends on a number of factors. The two most basic issues are: 1) what are the gross incomes of the parents; and 2) what is the custody arrangement? Both of those issues can be the subjects of contentious litigation, but once they are established, the calculation of the presumptive child support amount is mandatory and straightforward.

Finding the Basic Support Obligation

The first step in the determination of child support is identifying the basic support obligation. Virginia Code § 20-108.2 includes a table for determining basic support obligations using the parties’ combined gross incomes and the number of children in need of support.

For purposes of this calculation, gross income includes pre-tax income from almost all sources, including those commonly reported on tax returns as well as gifts and untaxed income. However, certain benefits and support for other children may be excludable. A family law attorney can help you determine what is includible and excludible as income in your situation.

The formulas available to the court to calculate child support all use the basic support obligation. The court will decide which formula to use based on the custodial arrangement.

Determining Which Formula to Apply

There are 3 basic ways that parents share physical custody of their children. When one parent has the children with him or her most of the year that is called sole (physical) custody. When both parents have the children for substantial portions of the year (each having them for more than 90 days) that is called shared custody. When the parties have more than one child and each has one or more of the children for most of the year that is called split custody.

There is a different formula for calculating child support for each custody arrangement. The main components of each of the formulas include: the parties’ gross incomes, the cost of work-related child care, and the cost of healthcare premiums for the child(ren). The shared custody formula also takes into account the number of days each party parents the child(ren).

  1. Sole Physical Custody. To find the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation, begin by adding the basic child support obligation from the table to the cost of health care coverage and work-related child care. Assign that total to the parents in proportion to their incomes, crediting the amount a non-custodial parent pays for the children’s health care coverage. The non-custodial parent will pay his or her obligation to the other.
  2. Split Custody. To calculate split custody support, the courts will run the sole custody calculations above as though each parent had sole custody of the number of children residing with that parent. The court will then calculate the difference between the sole support obligations, and the non-custodial parent owing the larger amount will pay the difference to the other.
  3. Shared Custody. The shared custody formula is applied by default when each parent has custody or visitation with the children for more than 90 days per year. However, if the sole custody formula results in a lower support obligation, the lower support amount will be ordered if requested by the payor party.

The shared custody formula requires the determination of each parent’s “custody share.” The custody share is the proportion of days in a year that the children reside with that parent.

After an initial adjustment to the basic child support obligation, each party’s child support need is determined based on his or her custody share. The other parent is obligated to contribute to that need in the same proportion as his income relates to the combined income amount. The parties’ obligations are compared, and the parent with the higher obligation pays the difference to the other.


Are There Exceptions?

The child support figures calculated using the method above are presumptively correct. In each proceeding for a determination of child support, the court must determine the presumptive child support. After doing so, however, the court may increase or decrease that amount if it finds that using the guideline child support figure would be unjust. There is a particular set of factors the court may consider when deviating from the presumptive child support amount. A family law attorney could help you determine whether the court is likely to deviate from the guideline support in your situation.

What about Other Specific Expenses?

Unless the parties agree otherwise, the court will order them to split the unreimbursed medical expenses for the children, such as co-pays, in proportion to their relative incomes. Many parents also wonder about costs such as sports/activities fees, summer camps, car insurance, or other common voluntary expenditures for the benefit of the children. The court can ratify agreements to split these expenses or may deviate from the presumptive amount of support to accommodate them. However, neither party can be compelled to contribute to such expenses if they are not addressed in the court’s order. Once a court establishes or approves a child support arrangement, that amount is the total enforceable obligation of the payor parent.

Do I Need to Complete These Calculations Myself?

No. The courts, social services entities, and family law attorneys in Virginia use special software to complete these calculations quickly and accurately. Parents need to know that the court must make these calculations and will use the results in most cases. Parents may want to meet with a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of their situations and any concerns they might have regarding the application of the guidelines.


Jennifer L. Fuschetti, Associate
Christie, Kantor, Griffin & Smith, P.C.

Please note: All information is current only as of the date of publication and applies only in Virginia unless specifically stated otherwise. This article is not intended to convey legal advice. Please consult an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction for advice regarding your situation.