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blog home Child Support The US Models for Child Support Orders & Child Support Modification

The US Models for Child Support Orders & Child Support Modification

By Sheryl Rentz on August 25, 2016

Child support obligations in the US are taken seriously at the federal, state and local levels of government. The system in the US has a federally outlined framework, but empowers the states to create and enforce the majority of the specific guidelines for their programs. All of the states adhere to a broad focus of ensuring that parents are providing financial care and support for their children, and Pennsylvania is no exception. The federal requirements are that the states establish a uniform statewide set of guidelines and that these laws are formally reviewed and reevaluated within a minimum interval of every four years. The US military branches and federally recognized tribal entities maintain these requirements as well; however, those models have rare and unique intricacies which will not be analyzed in the calculation methods to be outlined.


There are three common methods employed by states to calculate a child support order or child support modification.

1. Income Shares: This is the most widely used model, which is present in Pennsylvania as well (37) other states. The method first considers the total household income, or sum of the incomes of both parents. For example, Parent A has a monthly income of $1,000 and Parent B has monthly income of $2,000, thus household income is $3,000. The rounded percentage that each parent is responsible for in this case would be 33% for Parent A and 67% for Parent B. Next, this data is applied to a child support table that is similar to a tax table used to calculate personal income tax to derive an amount of support per child.

In Pennsylvania some the notable variables in how the calculations are conducted include:

  • The duration or period in which child support is required is until either the child is 18 years of age, or has graduated from high school. (whichever is the last to occur)
  • The income calculation applies to net income, rather than gross income, which would be a pre-tax based figure.
  • Work related child care expenses and the healthcare expenses are determined by the actual cost of care and applied to the income share proportional percentages.

2. Percentage of Income: This model can either be a flat (fixed) style or a variable style. The fixed method designates that a set percentage of the income of the noncustodial parent is ordered regardless of the income level. The variable style typically keeps the percentage of income ordered for those with low-to-mid level incomes the same, but then incrementally increases the percentage if the noncustodial parent has rising income which enters the higher/upper income ranges. An interesting (and often debated) aspect of the percentage of income method is that the custodial parent’s income is usually not considered or factored into the determination.

3. The Melson Formula: As of June 2016, this model is in use only in Delaware, Hawaii and Montana and has three core characteristics:

  • Parents are afforded to retain sufficient income to meet their basic needs.
  • Once the parent’s basic needs are covered, they are unable to retain any excess until the child’s basic needs are covered.
  • In cases where both the basic needs of the child and parent are covered, the child’s allocation of support will increase in accordance with the parent’s heightened income.

Reasons for a Child Support Modification:

  • A change in parental income levels or sources.
  • A change to the costs of child care or healthcare expenses.
  • The custodial parent arrangement is changed, or the child is legally emancipated.
  • Death
  • In response to a change in the state guidelines.

The Law Offices of Sheryl Rentz take child support related issues very seriously. Her team specializes in getting results for her clients who are in need of family law assistance. They are here to help you attain the best possible results in your situation; and will be certain that your case is handled successfully, efficiently and always with complete confidentiality. When it comes to your child support case, you owe it to yourself to retain a legal team with the focus and expertise in handling family law negotiations and litigation.

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