Child support guidelines are published by governments in both the United States and Canada to help families plan for the financial support for their children.

By Diana Shepherd, CDFA ™

Child support is intended to ensure that children continue to receive the financial support needed for their long-term well-being from their parents. The amount of child support is based on a number of different factors, including the annual income of each parent, the total number of children in the family, and the custody arrangements for the children.

Over time, governments have chosen to provide certain child support guidelines to  bring greater consistency and more predictability to the level of child support that a family receives. All US states and Canadian provinces have Child Support Guidelines, which are designed to help the courts decide the amount of child support to be paid.

Both state and provincial child support guidelines are intended to cover the children’s basic needs – including food, shelter, clothing, etc. They do not cover “extraordinary” expenses – such as summer camp, private school, orthodontics, horseback-riding lessons, team sports, etc.

The child support guidelines are exactly that – guidelines that set the basic framework in which a specific negotiation around the level of support for an individual family takes place. The courts can deviate from the guidelines and award a different amount of child support. The parents can also agree to a different amount – provided that the court approves their agreement.

State and provincial child support guidelines have upper income limits. If the parents’ income exceeds specified limits in their area, then the parents are not bound by the guidelines and will need to negotiate an amount themselves.

There are a number of online child support calculators you can use, where you plug in basic parameters such as the number of children, the level of gross income and the jurisdiction in which child support is to be paid. These calculators provide a quick and easy reference point for knowing the approximate level of child support you could expect to receive.

For more information about the US state child support guidelines, click here:

For more information about the Canadian provincial child support guidelines, click here:

Child support is an important element of your divorce agreement, so it is important to work with your legal counsel familiar with the divorce laws of your state or province to determine the appropriate level of child support and how it should be paid.

Diana Shepherd, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and Editorial Director of Divorce Magazine, has been writing about divorce-related issues since 1995.