Be it from a divorce, separation or custody agreement, a child support order can be a complex calculation. In what is already a likely emotional time, how the court arrives at a child support figure can be confusing to both parents, and it’s easy to be left with questions.

If you find yourself paying or receiving child support, it’s helpful to understand how the state of Missouri determines the amount. Child support—not unlike parenting—isn’t always a cut-and-dried formula, and a judge will weigh a variety of factors before deciding on a sum.

What is child support, exactly?

When a judge issues a child support order, they are declaring that one or both parents must pay a certain amount of money each month to assist in caring for their child or children. These funds are for basic needs such as housing, food, healthcare and clothing, as well as things like daycare, school and extracurricular activity expenses.

A parent is legally obligated to pay support until their child:

  • Turns 18 and does not enroll in college
  • Graduates from or attends college less than full-time
  • Marries
  • Dies
  • Turns 21 years old
  • Joins the military and begins active duty

How the payment amount is decided

In the state of Missouri, each child support determination is subjective. A judge will usually follow the state’s Schedule for Basic Child Support Obligations, which relies upon both parents’ combined adjusted gross income (AGI). There is a minimum payment of $50 per month, and for each increase in AGI by $50 increments, the child support payment will increase. It will also increase for each additional child involved.

Both parents will need to submit proof of income to the court and fill out a Child Support Amount Calculation Worksheet. In Missouri, gross income can come from salaries, wages, commissions, pensions, annuities, trusts, disability benefits, severance pay, as well as a variety of other sources. Though not always the case, things like bonuses, prize money and capital gains can also be factors when a judge determines support.

Since child support can be a murky, complicated legal area, it can be wise to consult with an attorney who is well-versed in family law.