Child Support Guideline Models by State

There are roughly three child support guideline models used by the states:

The Income Shares Model is based on the concept that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that he or she would have received if the parents lived together. In an intact household, the income of both parents is generally pooled and spent for the benefit of all household members, including any children.

The Percentage of Income Model sets support as a percentage of only the noncustodial parent’s income; the custodial parent’s income is not considered. This model has two variations: the Flat Percentage Model and the Varying Percentage Model.

The Melson Formula is a more complicated version of the Income Shares Model, which incorporates several public policy judgments designed to insure that each parent’s basic needs are met in addition to the children’s. The Melson Formula was developed by a Delaware Family Court judge and fully explained in Dalton v. Clanton, 559 A.2d 1197 (Del. 1989).

All of the guideline models have certain aspects in common. First, most of the guidelines incorporate a “self-support” reserve for the obligor. Second, all the guidelines have a provision relating to imputed income. Third, by federal regulation, all the guidelines take into consideration the health care expenses for the children, by insurance or other means. Lastly, most of the guidelines have incorporated into the presumptive child support formula special additions for child care expenses, special formulas for shared custody, split custody, and extraordinary visitation, and special deductions for the support of previous and subsequent children. Click here for more information.

Percent of child support

Federal Role in Child Support Enforcement(Source:

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees child support enforcement programs administered in each state. The federal child support program involves 54 states and territories and over 50 tribes. Each entity has its own unique laws and procedures. The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) assists states and tribes in performing collection and enforcement services. All of these entities work closely with the private sector including financial institutions, employers and insurance companies.

The federal program has a number of responsibilities including recommending and implementing policies for state and tribal child support enforcement programs, developing procedures to review state and tribal plans, conducting audits of child support programs, providing training and technical assistance to states and tribes, and assisting states and tribes in establishing reporting procedures and records.

Each state child support enforcement agency operates under a state plan approved by the OCSE. Each state plan is based on the program standards and policy set by the federal government. It sets the structure for state child support enforcement agencies and their local counterparts to work with families to obtain support. States are required to track financial and statistical data on their programs.

For every $1 that a state spends on their child support program, the federal government reimburses it $.66. The result is that, in effect, a state’s net contribution of $.34 is nearly tripled.

States and the federal government share the costs of these programs; however, the federal government provides the majority of child support enforcement funding. Congress reimburses states for two-thirds of their administrative costs. States receive a federal match on their child support enforcement expenditures. States can also receive additional federal incentive payments for meeting performance measures related to:

  • paternity establishment,
  • number of cases with orders,
  • collection of orders and arrears, and
  • cost effectiveness.

States must reinvest the federal match and incentive payments into the child support programs. There are also financial penalties for not meeting the performance targets.

Custody Types

Custody is the legally binding determination that establishes with whom a child shall live. There are many types of custody arrangements, including joint custody, shared custody, split custody, etc. Custody types vary from state to state. Visitation rights are granted when one parent is awarded sole custody of the child and the noncustodial parent is usually awarded visitation rights to see their child or children. Parents must amicably work out reasonable times and terms that work best for both parents and child. Legislation in this category includes joint custody, visitation and supervised visitation arrangements; special coordination for grandparents and military parents; and parenting time provisions.

  • Physical Custody

Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have a child live with him or her. Some states will award joint physical custody to both parents when the child spends significant amounts of time with both parents. Joint physical custody works best if parents live relatively near to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.

Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation with the other, generally the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have sole physical custody, with visitation to the other parent.

  • Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child means having the right and the obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. A parent with legal custody can make decisions about schooling, religion, and medical care, for example. In many states, courts regularly award joint legal custody, which means that the decision making is shared by both parents.

If you share joint legal custody with the other parent and you exclude him or her from the decision-making process, your ex can take you back to court and ask the judge to enforce the custody agreement. You won’t get fined or go to jail, but it will probably be embarrassing and cause more friction between the two of you — which may harm the children. What’s more, if you’re represented by an attorney, it’s sure to be expensive.

If you think you have circumstances that make it impossible to share joint legal custody (the other parent won’t communicate with you about important matters or is abusive), you can go to court and ask for sole legal custody. But, in many states, joint legal custody is preferable, so you will have to convince a family court judge that it is not in the best interests of your child.

  • Sole Custody

One parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody of a child. Courts generally won’t hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit — for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of child abuse or neglect.

However, in most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward enlarging the role a divorced father plays in his children’s lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody, the parties often still share joint legal custody, and the noncustodial parent enjoys a generous visitation schedule. In that situation, the parents would make joint decisions about the child’s upbringing, but one parent would be deemed the primary physical caretaker, while the other parent would have visitation rights.

It’s understandable that there may be animosity between you and your ex-spouse. But it’s best not to seek sole custody unless the other parent causes direct harm to the children. Even then, courts may simply allow supervised visitation, while still ordering joint legal custody.

  • Joint Custody

Parents who don’t live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, or no longer cohabiting, or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be:

  • joint legal custody
  • joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent), or
  • joint legal and physical custody.

It is common for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody.


Legal Assistance

American Bar Association

The American Bar Association is one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organizations, with nearly 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities.  It is committed to doing what only a national association of attorneys can do: serving our members, improving the legal profession, eliminating bias and enhancing diversity, and advancing the rule of law throughout the United States and around the world.

Founded in 1878, the ABA is committed to supporting the legal profession with practical resources for legal professionals while improving the administration of justice, accrediting law schools, establishing model ethical codes, and more.  Membership is open to lawyers, law students, and others interested in the law and the legal profession.

Our national headquarters are in Chicago, and we maintain a significant office in Washington D.C. Visit  for more information.

Legal Help & Assistance By State


District of Columbia 

DC Bar Task Force on Family Law
Representation Pro-Se-Plus Divorce Clinic

The Pro-Se-Plus Divorce Clinic was launched in January 1994as a joint Bar-Court effort. The Clinic is a two-session workshop held at least monthly at D.C. Superior Court. At each workshop, a team of four to five volunteers assists between 15 and 25 pro se litigants in filing for divorce. Over 240 litigants have attended the Clinic to date.  Litigants register for the Clinic at the courthouse with the assistance of court personnel. At the first session of the Clinic, litigants are walked through D.C.’s filing requirements,the issues that can make a divorce contested, and the stages of the documents required for an uncontested divorce. At the second session, litigants learn about more complex issues including service of process, alternate service, and default proceedings, and participate in a mock hearing. Litigants receive assistance in completing form pleadings that have been developed specifically for unrepresented individuals. Participants may call a special hot-line staffed by volunteers if they have questions after attending the Clinic. Those with unresolved issues are referred to the court’s mediation program. In addition to assistance individuals in filing for divorce pro se, the Clinic also provides an important educational service.

District of Columbia Bar
1250 H Street, NW
, Sixth Floor
DC 20005-3908


Mid Shore Pro Bono Lawyer Referral Program/Legal Services Provider

Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s (MSPB) maintains an office, open Monday through Friday, that provides residents an opportunity to walk-in and discuss their legal issues with staff, or, to attend weekly clinics staffed by volunteer lawyers during which residents discuss, in confidence, a wide range of legal issues (domestic, bankruptcy, foreclosure, etc.). Equally important, MSPB provides a one-stop-shop for lawyers to find clients in need of reduced fee (or free) representation. On at least a weekly basis, MSPBs staff provides the members of the local bar with a running list of reduced fee and/or pro bono clients in need of legal assistance.

Mid Shore Pro Bono
216 E. Dover Street
, MD 21601
410/ 690-8128

Virtual Courthouse

The Virtual Courthouse (VCH) is an internet-based service that enables parties to submit disputes in digital form for resolution by a neutral party of its Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services. These ADR services include arbitration, mediation, neutral case evaluation or a settlement conference by members of a panel of neutrals. VCH provides an independent forum by enabling parties to select qualified neutrals, submit digitized materials, schedule an ADR event and track other activities throughout the effort to resolve the matter. Critical to the design of this service is its neutrality; VCH impartially facilitates neutral selection by providing structured communication among parties via a controlled and secure message service. VCH streamlines every step in the process and minimizes the need and cost of unnecessary face-to-face meetings, mailing and copying. VCH enables aparty to obtain a fair, impartial and expeditious dispute resolution for as little as $200, expanding access to dispute resolution to those who would face higher costs by using the courts or other dispute resolution mechanisms.
2527 Lyon Drive
, MD 21403

The Maryland Legal Assistance Network/The Peoples Law Library

The Peoples Law Library is one of the first legal information and self-help advocacy websites in the country. It includes 1,100 page of information and has nearly 90,000 unique visitors each year. PLL is the centerpiece of a multi-pronged effort to provide the working poor and those with moderate incomes with legal information, forms, and connections to self-help and lawyer resources. The home page is designed so that people can access information from easy-to-identify topics. A navigation bar then links visitors to additional resources, such as lawyer and mediation referral opportunities and court resources. PLL is the first web site to fully comply with the ABA Best Practice Guidelines for Legal Information Web Site Providers.  In addition, the site includes diagnostic tools to assist pro se litigants to determine the circumstances where the assistance of a lawyer is critical to the outcome of their matter.

The Maryland Legal Assistance Network
500 East Lexington Street
, MD 21202
443/451-2891 was developed in 2001 by Richard Granat,a Maryland lawyer, in an effort to use technology to deliver unbundled legal services in family law matters to the moderate means population of Maryland.The site serves as a virtual law firm, and offers substantial cost savings to clients who pay flat fees for legal advice and attorney prepared documents.

Granat Legal Services, P.C.
9148 Reisterstown Road, Suite 43
Owings Mills, MD 21117

The Pro Se Project – Montgomery County Maryland

The Pro Se Project of Montgomery County, Maryland, is a free walk-in clinic that provides information and advice about family law matters, including divorce, custody, support and visitation. Using family law forms developed by the state, the Project helps clients determine which forms are appropriate, how to complete the forms and how to navigate the process.  Although the Project helps people of all income levels, those with incomes under the Project’s guidelines receive limited legal advice, while those with incomes over the guidelines receive only general legal information. The Project refers those who need a lawyer to local pro bono programs and the lawyer referral services. The Project is staffed with two lawyers and a bilingual paralegal, located in the county court, with hours from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday.

Montgomery County Circuit Court
Law Self Help Center
50 Maryland Ave
, MD 20850

The Women’s Law Center’s Family Law Hotline

The Family Law Hotline is an innovative project staffed bypro bono lawyers who provide free legal information to moderate income people experiencing family law problems. The Hotline was designed by the Women’s Law Center’s(WLC) Executive Director and its Young Lawyers Section. The WLC is a non-profit organization which educates the public about its legal rights. The Hotline began on a citywide basis in Baltimore in 1990. The Baltimore Bar Association contributed by assisting in preparing a manual for volunteers and helping to recruit lawyers to staff the Hotline. The WLC began a second hotline in 1991 which allows callers to reach it from all over the state on an “800” number. The Maryland State Bar Association assisted with recruitment of staff. WLC continues to operate both the City and State Hotlines one day a week, serving over 3,000 callers annually. To deal with the critical lack of services in family law volunteer lawyers receive calls in their own offices through a unique call forwarding system.

The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, Inc.
305 West Chesapeake Avenue
, MD 21204

Association of Family and Conciliation Courts

Mission of AFCC

AFCC is an interdisciplinary, international association of professionals dedicated to improving the lives of children and families through the resolution of family conflict. AFCC promotes a collaborative approach to serving the needs of children among those who work in and with family law systems, encouraging education, research and innovation and identifying best practices.

Vision of AFCC

A justice system in which all professionals work collaboratively through education, support, and access to services to achieve the best possible outcome for children and families.
  • Collaboration and respect among professions and disciplines
  • Learning through inquiry, discussion and debate
  • Innovation in addressing the needs of families and children in conflict
  • Empowering families to resolve conflict and make decisions about their future

Download the Model of Standards for Child Custody Evaluations Here: Modeling Standards for Child Custody Evaluation