Understanding All About Child Support

How Much Does Child Support Cost?

In September of 2010, The New York Post reported that according to the US Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child through age 17 in the United States is roughly $222,360. For urban areas such as Chicago, the cost is slightly higher, at $254,760.00 to raise a child. Seems pretty daunting, right? Well, guess what? These figures don’t even factor in college expenses which will run parents around $7,020 per year (for four years) at a public college, and a whopping $26,273.00 per year (for four years) at a private college. (Amoroso, Christina, “Cost of Raising a Child Today“, New York Post Online, September 16, 2010.) Thomas Reuters, Business and Financial News gets a little more specific and breaks the numbers down for a middle-income, two parent, midwest families, and estimates that the cost to raise a child ranges anywhere from $11,610.00 to $13,480.00 annually. (Abbott, Charles. “Price Tag to Raise a Child”, www.Reuters.com. Ed. Todd Eastham.)

Who Pays Child Support?

Imagine the terror that a parent going through a divorce faces, trying to figure out how they are going to afford to maintain a household, and raise children on a single income. That’s where child support comes in.

Child support is typically awarded to the residential parent, or the parent with whom the children reside on a consistent basis. Support is paid by the non-residential parent, or the parent who has the typical every other weekend / one evening per week visitation. “Child support” is loosely defined as the cost to feed, shelter and clothe a child. Residual expenses such as out of pocket medical costs, day care expenses and extracurricular activities are typically not included in straight child support amounts.

Child Support In Illinois

Some states factor child support by considering both parents’ incomes. Illinois is not one of those states. Illinois bases child support on a percentage of the net income of the person paying the support (i.e. the “payor”); 20% for one child, 28% for two children, 32% for three children, 40% for four children; and it caps out at 50% of the payor’s income for five children or more. These numbers were determined by our State legislature, incorporated into law, and considered “guideline support”. Basically what that means is that these are the guidelines followed by our Family Law Judges when calculating a monthly child support amount, and there are little to no exceptions made to those percentages. Any deviation from the set guidelines is only allowed in extraordinary circumstances.

Famously, attorneys’ representing Chicago Bear, Brian Urlacher, were successful in obtaining a deviation from guidelines for the payment of support of his child, declaring that 20% of $330,000.00 (Urlacher’s then annual income), or $66,000.00 per month, was clearly beyond the needs of the child.

Regretfully, the average American parent does not earn income at the level of a professional athlete, and therefore, is subjected to the statutory guidelines. But despite our State’s best efforts, support amounts set at these guidelines do not always cut the mustard, so to speak.

Child Support Breakdown

Payees (i.e. the parent receiving child support) often find themselves at a shortfall every month despite the consistent receipt of child support. Take an average middle income residential parent with two kids, making approximately $50,000.00 gross per year, and bringing home around $3,000.00 net per month. Let’s assume that parent regularly receives child support from their ex-spouse who makes approximately $60,000.00 gross per year, or $3,600.00 net per month. 28% of that $3,600.00 (guideline support percentage for two kids) is $1,008.00 per month. Using this example and going back to our annual cost to raise one child, even using the lowest average cost, that payee is certainly not experiencing a windfall every month thanks to child support. That payee is probably barely getting by. ($11,610.00 X 2 ÷ 12= $1,935.00 per month needed to cover the minimum basic needs of the children). Then add before and after school care, softball registration, braces, new gym shoes, a trip to the emergency room, and lunch money, and you can see how quickly the children’s expenses exceed the payees income and the child support.

Now consider an average residential parent / payee with three kids who only works part time so that no child care expenses are incurred, combined with a non-residential parent / payor who just got laid off and is receiving unemployment. Thomas Reuters needs to revisit their statistical data because this scenario is becoming an all too common reality for divorced parents and their children.

Navigating Child Support

Hillary Clinton once said, “it takes a village to raise a child”. But for divorced parents of minor children, it takes much more than that. It takes a village, a good support network and the continuing financial support of both parents. The underlying intent of child support is to continue to provide children of divorced parents with the same opportunities and standard of living that was afforded them when their parents were married. It doesn’t always work out exactly that way, but keep in mind that these guidelines adapted by our legislature were put in place for a reason, and the payment of child support from the non-residential parent / payor is more often than not, essential to the survival of the residential parent / payee, and the children.

No matter what economic circumstances divorced parents find themselves in, the residential parent / payee is undoubtedly going to be burdened with expenses not covered by child support, and the children will pay the price, no pun intended. The bottom line is, whether you are a giver or a receiver of child support, always remember that child support is for the benefit of the children, so pay it willingly, no matter how much it is, receive it gratefully, no matter how much it is, and be mindful that all divorced families with minor children are faced with the dilemma of supporting two households on the same or similar income that was previously supporting only one.


This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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