Calculation of Support Under the Melson Formula Model
The Melson formula was named after Judge Elwood F. Melson of the Delaware Family Court and was fully explained and adopted in Dalton v. Clanton.70 The formula, a more complicated version of the income shares model, reflects several public policy judgments. First, the Melson Formula explicitly recognizes that support of others is impossible until one's own basic support needs are met. Second, the Melson Formula model reflects the public policy that further enhancement of the parents' own economic status should not be allowed until the parents jointly, in proportion to their incomes, meet the basic poverty level needs of their children. Finally, the Melson Formula model, by incorporating a Standard of Living Adjustment (SOLA), reflects the policy judgment that parents should share their additional incomes with their children, improving their children's standard of living as their own standard of living improves.
The formula allocates to each parent a poverty self-support reserve. The formula then determines the total remaining combined parental income, the noncustodial parent's percentage thereof, and applies the noncustodial parent's percentage to a standard "primary support obligation" based on the number of children. Finally, after the primary support obligation is subtracted, the formula assesses the noncustodial parent an additional percentage of his or her remaining income.
The Melson Formula model is thus basically a six step process:
1. Provide for each parent's minimal self-support needs.
2. Provide for the children's primary support needs.
3. Determine work-related child care expenses and extraordinary medical expenses.
4. Determine the Standard of Living Allowance.
5. Add together the amounts determined in steps 2, 3, and 4.
6. Allocate the support between the parents according to each parent's percentage of total net income.
For example, suppose child support must be determined for one child whose custodial parent has a gross income of $1,000 per month and whose noncustodial parent has a gross income of $2,000 per month. Child care expenses are $50 per month, and extraordinary medical expenses are $15 per month. (For ease in calculation, assume that health insurance is paid by the father's employer, and there are no pre-existing support orders for child support or alimony.)
Using the Delaware 71 child support guidelines, the calculation of child support would be as follows:
(1) First, subtract federal and state taxes, and subtract a self-support reserve of $550 for each parent to yield a "net" income of $950 for the noncustodial parent, and $230 for the custodial parent.
(2) Second, add the two net incomes of the parents to reach a combined net available income of $1180. Thus, the custodial parent's proportional obligation is 80%, or $950 = $1180.
(3) Third, the basic support obligation is determined. Using the chart provided, it is $220 for one child.
(4) Fourth, added to the $220 is child care expenses of $50 per month, to yield a primary support obligation of $270.
(5) Fifth, determine the amount of SOLA available. The SOLA amount is the amount determined in (2), $1180, minus the amount determined in (4), $270. The available SOLA is $910. The SOLA percentage, as determined from the chart provided, is 18%; thus, the SOLA is $163.80.
(6) Sixth, add together the primary support obligation, $270, plus the SOLA obligation, $163.80. The total support obligation is thus $433.80.
(7) Finally, multiply the total support obligation by the appropriate noncustodial parent percentage to yield the noncustodial parent's obligation. In this case, it is $347.04.
 Strengths and Weaknesses of the Melson Formula Model
The proponents of the Melson Formula model argue its internal logic makes it the fairest of the models.72 Even though the Melson Formula model seems to be the most complicated of the models, its proponents contend that its seeming complexity is superficial; once a practitioner has used the Melson Formula model, its subsequent application is simple.73
The Melson Formula model is, indeed, the most internally consistent. It takes into consideration not only special custody arrangements and health care needs, it also takes into consideration each parent's needs. It is thus, on its face, the fairest as perceived by the parent. Where perceived fairness is the most important factor, then the Melson Formula model is the clear winner. Moreover, one expert has found that the Melson Formula model tends to produce less extreme differences in living standards where one parent has a very low income and the other parent has significantly higher income.74 This again contributes to the perceived fairness of the Melson Formula model. Moreover, because the Melson Formula model takes into consideration commonly occurring expenses, it is consistent and predictable. Its only fault is in its facial complexity.
70 559 A.2d 1197 (Del. 1989). (back)
71 Del. Child Support Formula, Civ. R. 52(c). (back)
72 R. Williams, "An Overview of Child Support Guidelines," Child Support Guidelines: The Next Generation, at 7 (U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1994). (back)
73 As stated by one author, the perception of comparative complexity of the Melson Formula model may be due more to lack of familiarity than to fact, and may be outweighed by other factors. M. Takas, Improving Child Support Guidelines: Can Simple Formulas Address Complex Families?, 26 Fam. L. Q. 171 (1992). (back)
74 N. Erickson, Child Support Guidelines: A Primer, 26 Clearinghouse Rev. 734, 739 (1993), citing letter from M. Takas. (back)