What should I consider when determining child support amounts?

The essential element of disagreement in most child support disputes relates to the paying parent wanting to pay less and the receiving parent wanting to receive more. Depending on the case – and the facts that pertain to it – one or the other parent may be on the right side of the law.

When the parents can see the issue clearly by accurately estimating how much child support should be paid, they can reach an out of court settlement that resolves their child custody dispute in a way that's similar to how a state family law court would decide the matter. Bypassing court litigation like this can save the parents time, money and stress.

Here are several important pieces of information that parents should review when deciding child support levels to be paid:

What are the custody arrangements? If one parent has physical custody (the custodial parent) and one parent has visitation rights (the noncustodial parent), then the noncustodial parent will be the one required to pay child support. In many modern custody cases, however, the parents agree to share physical custody equally, and the children will divide their time equally between both parents' homes. If the parents with equal custody have similar incomes, then it could result in neither parent paying child support.

What was the standard of living prior to separation? Within reason, courts will strive to set child support amounts at a level that helps the child maintain a similar standard of living that was enjoyed prior to the parents' separation. For example, if the child attended an expensive private school, the court may award a child support amount that allows the child to continue going to this school. Similarly, if the child enjoyed living in a home of a certain quality, the court will seek a child support amount that allows the child to continue living in such home.

What are the incomes of both parents? Courts will also review the incomes of both parents to accurately determine the financial needs of the custodial parent as well as the paying capabilities of the noncustodial parent.

Many other considerations could affect the amount of child support one parent needs to pay. For example, if a child has special financial needs relating to schooling or a unique health condition, this could serve to increase the level of child support to be paid. Ultimately, most child support matters can be resolved via a fair out-of-court family law settlement arrangement -- as long as the parents are willing to work with each other diplomatically and respectfully.

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