“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.