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Child Support - The States response

The State Response to the Federal Mandate 

Each state, in response to the federal mandate, enacted child support guidelines. These guidelines may be accessed at

The federal mandate requiring states to establish presumptive guidelines provides that the guidelines may be adopted by statute, administrative rule, or judicial rule.31  The guidelines were enacted by legislative statute in: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The guidelines were enacted by administrative regulation in: Connecticut, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. The guidelines were enacted by court rule or decision in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

  [a] Overview of the Models

The states, in adopting their guidelines, echoed the goals of the federal mandate, by stating that the goals and purpose of state child support guidelines are (1) increased compliance through perceived fairness of a child support award; (2) consistency and predictability of child support awards; (3) ease of administration of child support cases; and (4) and increased adequacy of awards.32  The various states have stated these goals in various ways. For example, the preface to the Indiana Child Support Guidelines states:

The Guidelines have three objectives: (1) to establish as state policy an adequate standard of support for children, subject to the ability of the parents to pay; (2) to make awards more equitable by ensuring more consistent treatment of persons in similar circumstances; (3) to improve the efficiency of the court process by promoting settlements and giving courts and the parties guidelines in settling the level of awards.

The New Mexico Child Support Guidelines states:

The purpose of the child support guidelines are to: (1) establish as state policy an adequate standard of support for children, subject to the ability of the parents to pay; (2) make awards more equitable by ensuring more consistent treatment of persons in similar circumstances; (3) improve the efficiency of the court process by promoting settlements and giving courts and the parties guidance specified in this section.

The Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines states:

Using the guidelines promotes (1) similar treatment of purposes similarly situated, (2) a more equitable distribution of the financial responsibility for raising children, (3) settlement of support matters without court involvement, and (4) more efficient hearings where they are necessary.

The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines states:

The major goals in the development of these guidelines are: (a) To decrease the number of impoverished children living in single parent families. (b) To make child support awards more equitable by ensuring more consistent treatment of persons in similar circumstances. (c) To improve efficiency of the court process by promoting settlements and by giving courts and parties guidance in establishing level of support awards. (d) To encourage parents paying support to maintain contact with their child(ren). (e) To ensure that when parents live separately, the economic impact on the child(ren) is minimized and to the extent that either parent enjoys a higher standard of living, the child(ren) share(s) in that higher standard. (f) To ensure that a minimum amount of child support is set for parents with a low income in order to maintain a bond between the parent and the child, to establish patterns of regular payment, and to enable the enforcement agency and party receiving support to maintain contact with the parent paying support.

The Washington Child Support Guidelines state:

Use of a state-wide schedule will benefit children and their parents by: (1) Increasing the adequacy of child support orders through the use of economic data as the basis for establishing the child support schedule; (2) Increasing the equity of child support orders by providing for comparable orders in cases with similar circumstances; (3) Reducing the adversarial nature of the proceedings by increasing voluntary settlements as a result of the greater predictability achieved by a uniform state-wide child support schedule.

In order to meet these goals, the states have implemented three basic child support calculation models: the "Income Shares" model, the "Percentage of Income" model (either flat percentage (F) or varying percentage (V)), and the "Melson Formula" model.33 

Although there are three models, all of the guideline models have certain aspects in common. First, most of the guidelines incorporate a "self-support reserve" for the obligor. That is, the obligor is allowed to retain a certain amount of income below which more than minimal support is not calculated. For example, under the Washington state34  income shares model, the formula is not applied for obligors with net earnings of less than $500 per month. Under the Minnesota35  percentage of income model, the guideline is not applied below $500 monthly net income, and the percentages are phased in above that level. Under the Delaware36  Melson Formula model, a primary support allowance is established through the primary support level for the obligor, which is decreased if the obligor is living with another working adult.

Second, all the guidelines have a provision relating to imputed income.37 

Third, by federal regulation,38  all the guidelines take into consideration the health care expenses for the children, by insurance or other means. The method by which the guidelines consider this expense varies, however.39 

Finally, in the past seven years since the enactment of the Family Support Act of 1988, most of the guidelines have incorporated into the formula by which the presumptive child support is determined special additions for child care expenses,40  special formulas for shared custody,41  split custody,42  extraordinary visitation,43  and special deductions for the support for previous and subsequent children.44  Specific consideration of the needs of the older child has also been incorporated into the guideline calculation in many states.45  Because the child support guidelines have sought to incorporate these specific expenses into the guideline calculation itself, these expenses are referred to as "mandatory add-ons and deductions" rather than deviation factors.


31  42 U.S.C. § 667(a) provides in pertinent part:

The guidelines may be established by law or by judicial or administrative action, and shall be reviewed at least once every 4 years to ensure that their application results in the determination of appropriate child support award amounts.


32  See § 1.02[d]. E.g., In re Bruce R., 234 Conn. 194, 662 A.2d 107 (1995) (child support guidelines were enacted with the goal of providing adequate support); Martinez v. Martinez, 282 N.J. Super. 332, 660 A.2d 13 (Ch. Div. 1995) (Congress clearly intended that within each jurisdiction there would be uniform application of like income and other relevant economic information used by all judges in establishment or modification of child support orders, and orders would not be subject to wide variations and uncertainty of result that was inherent in past decision making); Cassano v. Cassano, 85 N.Y.2d 649, 628 N.Y.S.2d 10 (1995) (purpose of guidelines is to create greater uniformity, predictability and equity in fixing awards while at the same time maintaining judicial discretion necessary to address unique situations); Grimes v. Grimes, 159 Vt. 399, 621 A.2d 211 (1992) (the purpose of the guidelines is to ensure adequacy of awards and increase administrative efficiency). See generally J. Thomas Oldham, Lessons from the New English and Australian Child Support System, 29 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 791 (1996). (back)

33  An additional guideline model, the "Income Equalization" model, developed by Dr. Judith Cassetty, has not been adopted by any state. Briefly, the income equalization model is intended to provide equivalent living standards for each parent's household.

The formula for support is as follows:

A = (CP x NI) - (NP x CI)
           NP + CP

where A = award; CP = custodial parent's cost of living under any standardized, cost-based measure, such as the federal poverty guidelines; NP = noncustodial parent's cost of living; CI = custodial parent's household income or imputed income; NI = noncustodial parent's household income or imputed income. There is no separate treatment for child care or extraordinary medical expenses.

In applying this model, a poverty level of support is exempted from each parent's income, and the remaining income is distributed between the two households in proportion to the number of persons in each family unit. Because total net income is distributed, rather than just the income of the parents, a current spouse of either parent is counted in the model for purposes of applying the poverty level exclusion, and the income of that spouse is included in the total income of that unit. Similarly, all dependents, not just the children of the marriage under consideration, are included in the total unit. Judith Cassetty & Fran Douthitt, The Economics of Setting Adequate and Equitable Child Support Payments, 12 Tex. St. Bar Sec. Rep., Fam. L., Special Support and Visitation Issue (1984); see also Robert Williams, Development of Guidelines for Child Support Orders: Advisory Panel Recommendations and Final Report, at II-88 (U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1987); Robert Williams, Guidelines for Setting Levels of Child Support Orders, 21 Fam. L.Q. 281, 302 (1987).

Child support laws of all states, however, generally do not impose a duty to support step-children. This guideline type is therefore inconsistent with this general principle. See § 3.04. See generally Margaret Mahoney, Stepfamilies and the Law (U. Mich. Press, 1994); Annotation, Stepparent's Post Divorce Duty to Support Stepchildren, 44 A.L.R.4th 520 (1985). Moreover, income equalization is a form of alimony in that the income is distributed to households, not children. This model is thus inconsistent with the move away from permanent alimony and toward rehabilitative alimony only. See generally Brett R. Turner, Redefining Alimony in a Time of Transition, 4 Div. Litig. 221 (Nov. 1992). (back)

34  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.19.001. (back)

35  Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.551. (back)

36  Del. Child Support Formula, Civ. R. 52(c). (back)

37  See § 2.04. (back)

38  45 C.F.R. § 302.56(c)(8). (back)

39  See § 3.01. (back)

40  See § 3.02. (back)

41  See § 3.03[a]. (back)

42  See § 3.03[b]. (back)

43  See § 3.03[c, d]. (back)

44  See § 3.04. (back)

45  See § 3.05. (back)


Keywords: child guidelines state support

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