New research finds that child support rates can differ significantly depending on the state. A parent can pay almost three times as much as one who lives in a state just six hours away, despite their circumstances being otherwise equal. In fact, a typical parent’s payment can vary by over $700 a month from state to state.
By Shea Drefs, Writer and Editor
The size of your child support payment depends heavily on where you live, according to a new study.
A parent can pay almost three times as much as one who lives in a state just six hours away, despite their circumstances being otherwise equal. When a Virginia parent would pay about $400 a month in child support, a Massachusetts parent would pay nearly $1,200, per state guidelines.
The study from Custody X Change — which offers a web app to help parents create custody agreements and calendars — looks at a hypothetical family with two children, ages 7 and 10. The mother has 65% of parenting time (the most common timeshare awarded to a U.S. mother, according to previous research). She makes $45,000 a year, while the father makes $55,000 (based on data about typical parental incomes from Pew Research Center).
Researchers entered this information into each state’s child support formula to discover that the father’s payment could range from $402 a month to $1,187 a month. (See the full table of state rankings, below.) Nationally, he would pay an average of $721 monthly.
These totals reflect how much a state presumes the non-custodial parent should pay, but judges have the discretion to award different amounts based on evidence. In some cases, parents can decide together how much support will be exchanged.
The study does not utilize data from Custody X Change users.
“Child support is complex,” said Ben Coltrin, Custody X Change co-founder and president. “States don’t want to set a payment too low, leaving a child’s needs unmet. At the same time, they don’t want to set a payment so high that the parent can’t afford it. We hope this data furthers dialogue about how to determine the right amount for each family.”
Cost of Living, Political Leaning Don’t Explain the Variation in Child Support Rates
Perhaps surprisingly, the research revealed that child support rates don’t significantly correlate with a state’s cost of living.
Of the five most expensive states to live in — Hawaii, New York, California, New Jersey, and Maryland — one (Hawaii) ranks among the 10 highest child support calculations in the study, but two (New Jersey and Maryland) rank among the lowest 10 calculations.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts, which awards the highest support payment for this family, has the seventh highest cost of living in the nation. Virginia has a comparable cost of living (12th highest in the U.S.), yet awards the least support.
Political leaning also fails to provide an explanation for the variation in support. Average awards from Republican and Democratic states for this mother are just $13 apart ($702 and $715 a month, respectively).
Four States Only Consider One Parent’s Income, but Award $100 More Monthly
Only four states don’t consider the mother’s income when calculating this family’s child support: Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Texas.
In these states, the family’s child support payment is $100 higher than in the rest of the country, on average. Whereas these states award the family an average of $813 monthly, the other 46 states award $713 on average.
As the number of working mothers has ballooned in recent decades, most states have moved to formulas that factor in both parents’ incomes. Arkansas will become the latest state to make this move, by March.
For the family in the study, formulas that look only at the father’s earnings produce high totals. This is because they don’t consider that the hypothetical parents have similar income levels.
If the mother’s income were to drop, the presumed awards in the same four states could be among the lowest in the country; they would remain static while the awards in other states would increase.
Rocky Mountain Region Awards the Lowest Payment, New England the Highest
The Rocky Mountain region awards this mother the least child support: $556 a month, on average.
New England awards the most; at $928 a month, its average is 67% higher than that of the Rocky Mountain region. Vermont is a New England outlier, with the 12th lowest payment in the nation ($519), but it’s not enough to knock New England out of the top spot.
Shea Drefs, Managing Editor at Custody X Change, began her career as a news reporter. Today she leads a writing team that helps parents understand child custody and the associated legal processes. www.custodyxchange.com
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