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Child Support and Maintenance: What Are They and How Are They Calculated?

Divorces can frequently become messy – both when it comes to relationships and when it comes to finances. In fact, many people come to their attorneys with questions as to how a divorce or separation will affect them or their child’s lifestyle. Such questions include those regarding child support or maintenance.

Child Support

Child support is where one parent receives payments from the other to financially support their child or children. The Court orders these payments to cover the fundamental expenses relating to their child. A court will typically order child support until the child reaches 18 years of age, or graduates from high school, if the child is still in high school on his/her 18th birthday.

Child support is designed to meet a child’s basic requirements, including necessities such as:

  • Clothing, toys and other child essentials
  • Routine medical, eye, dental and wellness care, not including bills associated with medical treatment, copays, or prescriptions (these are separately allocated)
  • Rent, food, utilities and other household expenses

How is child support calculated?

A judge calculates child support payments based on the parents’ combined net incomes. When judges consider the payment amounts due, they review both parents’ incomes. You can use a Child Support Calculator or complete the following steps to estimate your payment amount:

1. Determine each parent’s percentage of the combined net incomes

2. Enter the new combined income into an income shares chart to determine the primary child support obligation.

3. Multiply the resulting number with the percentages for each parent.

4. The numbers that result in each parent’s child support obligations. 

This number is just an estimate and will not guarantee the final amount. One should consult with a judge or lawyer to better determine child support payments. Additionally, the parents’ schedule with the children may impact the “standard” child support calculations.

The parent with most of the parenting time is typically the parent who receives child support from the other. However, there are instances where the court assigns the “breadwinner” parent child support payments to the other parent, even if he/she has the majority of parenting time.

Outside of determining the child’s “basic needs,” the Court separately allocates responsibility between the parents for other necessities. Such necessities include medical expenses not covered by insurance, enrollment fees for public school, and daycare (if both parents work outside the home). The parent makes these payments in addition to the basic child support amount paid each month. In addition, the Court allocates responsibility for extracurricular activities. However, the Court sees these are more discretionary costs.


Maintenance is when the judge orders a spouse to give the other financial support on an ongoing basis after a divorce. Called “spousal support” or “alimony” in prior years, maintenance intends to assist the spouse in maintaining a similar lifestyle to the one they had during the marriage. Generally, after divorce, one spouse expects the other to find a job and support themselves. Thus, while a spouse may request it, a judge does not have to order maintenance. A judge may not grant the request if there is not a significant need for financial assistance.

If a judge does find a need for maintenance, there are a few items the Court must take into consideration, such as:

  • Income and income potential of both spouses post-divorce
  • Property awarded to each spouse in the divorce
  • Time, training, and education needed for the lower-income or non-working spouse to get a better job
  • Lifestyle during the marriage
  • Length of marriage
  • Both spouse’s ages
  • Physical and emotional conditions
  • Previous agreements

How is maintenance calculated?

According to Illinois Legal Aid, a judge typically uses a consistent formula to determine the amount of maintenance a spouse will give the other:

  • First, multiply the payor’s net yearly income by 0.333.
  • Nest, multiply the payee’s net yearly income by 0.25.
  • Lastly, subtract 2) from 1).

The above calculation is subject to a cap. The spouse receiving maintenance cannot have more than 40% of the combined marital income after receiving a maintenance award. A judge modifies a spouse’s maintenance payments if the paying spouse loses a job or if there is an increase in the non-paying spouse’s income.

In addition to requesting maintenance after a divorce is granted, a spouse can also request temporary maintenance be paid during the pending case. This temporary support can come in the form of a cash payment each month, or by virtue of the paying spouse being ordered to pay certain ongoing expenses that benefit the receiving spouse, such as paying for the mortgage, car payments and other bills. 

The Difference Between Child Support and Maintenance

The critical difference between maintenance and child support is the purpose of the payments. Child support is typically made to benefit any children resulting from the marriage, whereas maintenance is paid for the benefit of the spouse. Where both maintenance and child support are owed to one party, the amount of maintenance paid will also directly impact how much that spouse then receives in child support.

If you are ever in doubt about the differences between maintenance and child support, or are curious how much support may be ordered in your case, it’s advised to speak with an experienced family law attorney. Get in touch with Strieker Law Firm for advisement on the best course of action to take.

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