Before You Receive Child Support Payments: What You Need to Know

6 Little-Known Facts About Child Support Payments

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Get the facts about child support payments. Purestock/Getty Images

Before you receive child support payments, you need to get your facts straight. Should you trust that online child support calculator? How much can you expect to receive? And do you need to keep an account of how the money is used? Here's what you need to know before you receive child support payments: 

What Do Average Child Support Payments Look Like?

Child support is calculated differently depending on where you live. Yes, that's right. Custodial parents in Kentucky can anticipate receiving less child support, on average, than custodial parents in New Mexico. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, child support payments average about $445 per month, or $5,350 per year. But as you probably know all too well, many single parent families receive far less—or nothing at all.

How Are Child Support Payments Calculated?

Some states use what is known as the 'Income Shares Model' for calculating child support, which means they consider the adjusted gross income of both parents. Other states look only at the income of the noncustodial parent. Where you live really does make a difference.

Can I Trust Online Child Support Calculators?

You should only trust online calculators provided by state charged with determining the child support amount. For most families, that would be the state where the children live most of the time. There are a lot of websites out there that promise accurate child support calculators, but most of them cannot take every variable into account. For example, they may not be calibrated to factor in child care costs, health care costs, side jobs, or whether either parent is responsible for subsequent children—and they may not use the same mathematical algorithms as the state requires. Therefore, your best best is to go directly to the source. Contact your local child support agency directly and ask whether they provide an online child support calculator. If they do not, ask whether they make printable child support calculator worksheets available online or through the agency. And remember that all child support calculators—even the ones provided by the state—should always be considered 'an estimate' until the court issues your specific child support ruling. (That's right; the figure you see online is just a best guess for now.)

What Can Child Support Payments Be Used For?

Generally, child support payments are used to fund child-related expenses, including food, housing, transportation, medical care, education and extra-curricular activities, and college savings. However, parents who receive child support payments on behalf of their children are not obligated to keep a record of how they use the child support money they receive. So don't let your ex bully you into keeping some kind of log. You know full well that every dollar you receive for your children is going toward their care, whether you spend it on food, clothing, your home, health care, or extra-curricular activities to fuel their education.

How Does Parenting Time Impact Child Support?

Depending on where you live, child support payments may be reduced according to the amount of parenting time each parent is awarded. This is because it is generally understood that the obligor is taking care of the child's needs while he or she is with the child.

Can My Ex File for Joint Custody Just to Avoid Child Support Payments?

Perhaps. And we've all seen cases where it seems that's exactly what happened. A parent who's been uninvolved for years suddenly starts coming around when the question of child support payments comes up. If you suspect this is happening, start documenting your observations. However—as hard as it is—try to also keep an open mind and remember that your ex's involvement could be positive for your children's development and sense of self-worth. No matter what you think of your ex as a person, he or she is still your children's other parent—and unless you have legitimate concerns about visitation safety, supporting their ongoing relationship is likely in your children's best interests.

United States. Census Department. Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007. By Timothy S. Grall. Census, 2009. 03 Jan. 2011 [].