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Child support is money used to feed, clothe, and house your children. Parents are generally ordered to pay child support in all divorce and parentage cases. However, not all of your children’s expenses are covered by child support. For that reason parents may have to pay for these  expenses on top of what they pay for child support.

For example, in Illinois parents are required to maintain medical insurance for their children. They are also required to contribute to their kids’ uncovered medical bills, certain educational expenses, and their kids’ extracurricular activities. This is true in many other states as well.

The payment of all of these expenses is required in addition to regular child support.

(If you’re not sure which of your children’s expenses you may have to pay, check with a good divorce lawyer in your state.)

Close up of fingers on a calculator; woman calculating child support.

Calculating Child Support

Child support is generally paid to the “custodial” parent  by the “non-custodial” parent.  In states like Illinois, which have abolished the concept of child custody, child support is now paid by the person who is designated as the “supporting parent” in the divorce or parentage judgment.

Child support laws vary from state to state. How much you will have to pay (or will receive) in support depends upon the laws in your state. The way child support is calculated varies from state to state, too.

Most states, including Illinois, have “guidelines” for establishing the amount of child support that must be paid. Although they are called “guidelines,” these guidelines are really more like rules. While judges can deviate from these guidelines, they usually don’t do so often.

Judges will sometimes order a parent to pay more than guideline support if their child needs more money for some reason. For example, a  child with special needs may have to be in a special, more expensive school. Or s/he may need expensive medical care. In those cases, a judge may order a parent to pay more than what the child support guidelines say.

On the other hand, guideline support for a parent who is making a million dollars a year may be way more than what their child needs. In high net worth cases, the judge may allow the parents to pay less than the guideline support amount.

To figure out whether you have any grounds to deviate from guideline support in your divorce, check with an attorney in your area.

Multi-colored plastic letters spelling "child support" on top of a pile of $100 bills with a judge's gavel.

How Is Guideline Child Support Calculated?

Child support guidelines vary from state to state. In some states, child support guidelines are based on only one parent’s income. In others, they take both parents’ incomes into consideration.

The guideline support amount may also be based in part on the amount of time a parent spends with his/her children. This “time” is usually calculated by counting the number of overnights that children spend with that parent.

In Illinois, child support used to be based solely upon the net income of the supporting parent. The custodial parent’s income didn’t matter at all. It also didn’t matter how much time either parent spent with their kids. None all of that has changed.

Illinois child support is now based upon a rather complicated formula. That formula factors in the combined net income of both parents.  The formula also takes into account the number of overnights the kids spend with each parent. If a child spends 146 overnights or more with a parent, then that parent’s support obligation will be reduced.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services has established the rules for calculating child support in Illinois. Those calculations are no longer simple for the average person to make. Thankfully, software programs can make calculating Illinois child support easier. (NOTE: Similar software exists for every state.)

If you are trying to figure out how much support you will have to pay or will receive, the best way to do it is to contact a local divorce attorney. However, if you want to get a rough estimate of what child support might be, you can use a child support calculator. (To calculate your support in Illinois, you can use the Illinois Child Support Estimator.)

3D Green dollar sign with a green pencil in it indicating children's expenses.

Paying for Children’s Expenses in Addition to Child Support

In many states, including Illinois, parents must pay more than just child support. They must also pay a portion of certain other expenses for their kids.

For example, parents will be required to pay for medical insurance for their children. They may also be required to pay their children’s uncovered medical expenses. Some parents may be required to pay for their children’s private school expenses. (That depends on a lot of factors, though. It doesn’t happen in every case.) Parents may also be required to contribute to the cost of their children’s extracurricular expenses and day care costs.

In Illinois, parents may be ordered to contribute to the following expenses for their children:

1. The health needs not covered by insurance;
2. Child care expenses;
3. Children’s educational expenses; and
4. The cost of children’s extracurricular activities.

These contributions are all paid on top of what a parent pays in support for the kids.

Paying for Childrens’ College Educational Expenses

Piggy bank with a graduation cap sitting atop a calculator and money.

Unlike in many other states, in Illinois, divorced parents are also required to contribute to their children’s college educational expenses. The extent of the parents’ obligation depends upon the income and assets of both parents, and of their child. Also, the amount of a parent’s contribution is currently limited to the cost of attending the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana.

To determine what your state requires regarding the payment of expenses for the children, check with an experienced divorce lawyer in your area.

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