How Child Support Obligations Are Calculated

“It wasn’t always the way it is.” That’s what I tell people when they ask how child

support obligations are determined. It used to be that every case was judged on its own merits.

Because of this, depending on the position of the moon and whether it was high tide, you could

have the same facts in two cases and get totally different results.

That all changed in the late 1980’s. While some might want to give credit to wise

legislators, that’s not why the law changed; rather, it was primarily due to landmark federal

mandates to states receiving federal funding for child welfare. The Federal Support Act of 1988

came with strings attached. The federal government told the states that if you want our money,

you need to create uniformity in the way child support orders are determined.

These days, child support is determined by federally mandated child support guidelines.

A guideline worksheet is used to calculate support. Plug in some numbers – like the monthly

amount of gross income (before taxes) the obligor makes – the person owing child support – and

the amount of gross income the obligee makes – the person to whom child support is owed – and

you are half way there.

Other than monthly gross income, there’s a place where you put the number of children.

If someone is getting child support for other children, that income gets put in – all on a monthly

basis. Monthly self employment income is added to the mix. If someone has to contribute to

their retirement plan, that gets put in as a monthly deduction. State income taxes are deducted –

based on the month. You then deduct any money paid for child care or for money paid for work

related education and training – monthly basis. Finally, you deduct the monthly payment for

medical insurance for the children. You are now ready to pull the switch and find out what is


The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services has a website. If you go

to the website, there is a calculator available. Plug in the numbers and it gives you the amount of

the child support obligation.

There are ways of deviating from the strict application of guideline support. Be thankful

that there is because there are situations where applying the guidelines is unnecessarily harsh.

There is no question in my mind that the federal government was correct when it passed

the Family Support Act of 1988. This Act required uniformity amongst similarly situated

families. It did so to minimize the economic consequences of divorce on children. The Act has

gone a long way toward accomplishing that goal.