In theory, child support is an amount of money payable by one parent to the other to make sure that a child is cared for and shares, to some degree, the standard of living enjoyed by both parents. This theory is quantified in child support guidelines statutes where the actual amount of child support is calculated using economic data. Current guidelines for child support awards in most states are based upon economic data regarding the spending levels of intact households. The data used in states’ child support guidelines are not merely advisory as the phrase “guidelines” may suggest to many. Federal regulations require that guidelines be presumptive in child support determination. That is, the presumptive award is based upon formulas which incorporate economic data on child costs. State presumptive formulas typically apply the intact family child cost data to parental incomes and number of children—and then add other factors, such as health care insurance premiums and child care costs. The presumptive award is the actual award unless one of the parties rebuts the presumption on which the award is based. The intact family economic data used to calculate child support are misleading because of the failure to consider the economic reality of the existence of two separate households. Parents divorce, families split, and partners leave, and where there once was a single, intact household with two parental figures, there now are two households with separated parental figures. Consequently, this means that there is less discretionary income available across the two households because of an increased level of expense required to maintain two households rather than a single, intact household.

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