Three Primary Approaches to Child Support
At present, there are three primary approaches implemented by different states to determine the amount of child support. The first approach is based on percentage of income and only considers the income of the noncustodial parent. States that use this approach have developed a chart that includes the income of the payor, the number of children, and percentage to be paid. Percentages vary based on income, number of children, and in some cases the age of children. This approach, which makes certain assumptions about the payor's ability to pay child support, is based on a formula rather than on the child's needs. It does not take into consideration the custodial parent's income.
The second and most common approach is the income shares model. The idea here is that the child should receive the same percentage of parental income as if the parties were living together. The incomes of both the custodial and noncustodial parent are considered in this model. Using both incomes and a chart that determines the percentage of parental income to be paid per number of children, the court will calculate the amount of support the child should receive from both parents. That amount will then be divided between parents based on their proportion of earnings to the total income. The noncustodial parent will then pay his share to the custodial parent.
The third and least common approach, called the Melson formula, requires the court to determine the basic needs of each parent and then set the child support. But because the majority of states use a percentage of income approach, most of the current child support discussion is focused on determining the income of the payor.