In Delaware, both parents, whether they are married or not, have a legal obligation to support their children until they graduate from high school or turn 19. Courts arrive at an amount representing an individual’s child support obligation with the assistance of an automatic calculator using a mathematical formula in Delaware. The child support formula is a rebuttable presumption in Delaware. In 2015, the Delaware legislature made changes in the state’s “Child Support Formula.”

The Child Support Formula prevents time-consuming back and forth negotiation between the parties regarding the economic factors and variables already considered by the formula. Only in rare circumstances will the court find that a parent has successfully rebutted the presumption of the amount yielded by the formula, and thus the final amount will usually equal or closely approximate the original calculated amount.

Delaware uses the “Melson Model” or “Melson Formula” to calculate child support. It is based upon public policies that focus on providing not only for the needs of the children, but also for the basic needs of the parents. It recognizes that a parent’s own basic support needs must be met before the needs of child may be addressed. The formula also incorporates a Standard of Living Adjustment (SOLA) so that parents improve their children’s standard of living in proportion to improving their own standard of living.

The Melson Model starts with inputting factors like a parent’s self-support allowance and the number of other dependent children not subject of the instant action. This results in a net income amount available for primary support. The formula then establishes the child’s primary support allowance considering other monthly child care expenses, including health insurance, to arrive at an amount representing the total primary need and finally the primary support obligation. This amount is then subject to a SOLA yielding the monthly child support obligation.

Avoiding work to decrease a child support obligation won’t find success in Delaware as courts will impute income to responsible parents. Imputed income may be defined as income attributed to parents when they are able to work, but are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Income may also be attributed to parents that, whether or not they appear in court, fail to sufficiently provide information about income. Delaware parents should know that there is a presumption that they are imputed to minimally earn wages of not less than $8.25 per hours, 40 hours per week, which is $1,430 monthly.

The Child Support Formula used by the Delaware Family Court to calculate a parent’s child support obligation is updated every four years, with the most recent changes taking effect on January 1, 2015. The courts will use the revised Child Support Formula to calculate any child support order entered after January 1, 2015. Some of the changes are:

  • As mentioned above, the minimum income attributable to a parent is $1,430 per month. This reflects 40 hours of work per week at minimum wage, or $8.25 per hour.
  • A parent now receives the same allowance for supporting one minor child who is not subject to the support order as two or more children.
  • Support recipients are no longer required to pay the first $350 of unreimbursed medical expenses annually. Parents will share out-of-pocket expenses pursuant to their respective percentage share of the total net available income.
  • The new revisions change the number of overnights necessary to trigger a “parenting time adjustment” for the obligor.
  • Whether income from a second job may be included in a child support calculation will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

When using the automatic calculator, keep a few things in mind. The child support amount determined by the calculator will not necessarily equal the same amount in the final order of the Delaware Family Court.  Based upon the evidence presented at the child support hearing, the court will make the final determination regarding what income amounts to use in the calculation.  Both parents may present evidence of income, and the commissioner may consider other factors depending on the unique facts of each case, which may affect the final amount of child support in the Family Court’s order. Also, the fact that the Child Support Formula was updated does not constitute a change of circumstances for modification purposes.

It is important to understand that the unique facts of each case and the evidence presented to the commissioner will be key to the amount awarded. Understanding how the Delaware Child Support Formula works is a complex task. If you live in New Castle, Kent, or Sussex Counties and are already receiving or are entitled to child support and have questions or concerns in light of the new changes in the law of child support, consult an experienced Delaware family law attorney. Schedule a consultation with Tabatha Castro today by calling (302) 225.5700.