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Understanding Louisiana Child Support Guidelines

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab

How Do the Guidelines Work?

Louisiana courts calculate child support based on a fixed formula called the Louisiana Child Support Guidelines. In Court, the formula is sometimes just called "the Guidelines". There are two parts to child support: "basic" child support and "add-on" expenses. Together, basic child support plus the add on expenses equal the "total" child support obligation.
The inputs of the Guidelines are the parent's incomes and the number of children. The Guidelines use this schedule, the parents' "combined monthly adjusted gross income," and the number of children to determine the basic child support obligation.

For the Court to calculate basic child support, each parent should bring their most recent three (3) tax returns and most recent pay stub to Court. Sometimes, one or the other parent does not bring these documents. If that happens, one can ask the Court to reset the hearing and order them to bring the documents.

Wages and salaries from all employment count as income. Money earned from freelance or other jobs counts, too. Interest earned from investments is counted as income. Regular cash gifts can also be counted as income for child support.

Some things that do not count as income include child support received for a child of a prior marriage. Cash gifts intended to help a parent when the other parent is not paying child support regularly do not count as income.

 

The Guidelines formula determines the amount of basic child support by first finding the "theoretical" child support obligation and then multiplying it by each parent's percent contribution to the combined parental income. 

Finding the "Theoretical" Child Support Amount

The amount of theoretical support is determined using this schedule. To use the schedule, find the column with the number of children who will be getting support.   This example will assume three children

Excerpt from La. R.S. 9:315.19 (Eff. 2016)

Combined Adjusted Monthly Gross Incomes One Child Two Children Three Children Four Children Five Children Six Children
             
1600 300 464 568 598 602 608
1700 316 489 600 669 672 679
2400 433 670 821 916 1007 1096
2600 467 722 884 986 1085 1180
3700 646 995 1214 1354 1489 1620
3800 663 1021 1245 1389 1527 1662

 

Then, find the row that shows the parents' combined monthly incomes, using the totals in the left-most column of the schedule. This example will assume $2,400.    

Excerpt from La. R.S. 9:315.19 (Eff. 2016)

Combined Adjusted Monthly Gross Incomes One Child Two Children Three Children Four Children Five Children Six Children
             
1600 300 464 568 598 602 608
1700 316 489 600 669 672 679
2400 433 670 821 916 1007 1096
2600 467 722 884 986 1085 1180
3700 646 995 1214 1354 1489 1620
3800 663 1021 1245 1389 1527 1662

 

For three children, based on $2,400 combined monthly gross income, the schedule provides a starting point of $821.  This starting point is called the "theoretical" child support obligation.  It is the number that the law presumes two parents earning $2,400 each month would spend on their 3 children each month. 

Determining Each Parent's Percent Contribution

The formula also determines the percentage of basic child support owed by each parent.  The percentage owed by each parent is based on that parents' percent contribution to the combined monthly gross incomes. 
Example: For parents with a combined monthly gross income of $2,400, if one parent earns $800 and the other parent earns $1,600, the parent earning $800 will have a 33% contribution and the parent earning $1,600 will have a 67% contribution.  

$800 / $2,400 = 0.3333333 (round to 0.33 or 33%)

$1,600 / $2,400 = 0.6666666 (round to 0.67 or 67%)

This calculation is the same for any amount of combined income and any amount of parental income.  Parent's income divided by the total combined income of both parents equals the percent contribution. 

Calculating Basic Child Support

Only one parent will have to make a cash payment to the other parent to cover their percentage of the total amount of basic child support.  The parent whose contribution percentage is higher is the parent who will make a cash payment to cover their percent of the support. 

Using the $821 provided by the schedule and the 67% contribution percentage, the basic child support owed totals $550.

0.67 x $821 = $550  

The Guidelines also determine the percentage of certain "add-on" expenses of the children owed by each parent. The Court can include expenses for child care costs, health insurance premiums, extraordinary medical expenses, and other extraordinary expenses, like music lessons and sports fees.

In some cases, the Court may order each parent to pay their percentage of these expenses directly to a third party. In other cases, one parent may pay the full amount and seek a reimbursement from the other parent for their percentage of the total amount paid.

Child Care Costs
The Court is required to add net child care costs to the basic child support amount. The net child care cost equals the total or actual child care costs minus any federal tax credit for child care expenses. The Court needs documentation of child care costs to include in the formula. In addition to net child care costs, the Court has the discretion to add child care costs related to a parent's job training or education necessary for employment or to increase the parent's earning potential.
Health Insurance

The Court may order one of the parties to enroll the child in a health insurance plan or to keep the child's coverage on an existing plan. A parent whose employer-sponsored health insurance covers a child will get credited. The parent must show how much of the total monthly premium is used to pay for the child's coverage. If the other parent has children who are covered by their insurance, but are from a different relationship, the total monthly premium is divided by the total number of children covered by the insurance plan. The parent is only entitled to a credit in the amount of coverage that is used for the children who are part of the child support order.

Extraordinary Medical Expenses

Basic child support covers the first $250 per child, per calendar year, in out-of-pocket medical expenses. Extraordinary medical expenses are out-of-pocket expenses, not covered by insurance, that occur after the first $250 spent per child per calendar year.

For example, assume that in less than one year, one child has 5 doctor's appointments and each one costs $50 out-of-pocket. Any expenses incurred after the first $250 count as "extraordinary medical expenses."

Extraordinary medical expenses incurred on behalf of the children can be added to basic child support. The parents can agree to add these expenses or the Court can order them to be added if the parents do not agree.

Other Extraordinary Expenses

If the parties agree, or if the Court orders it, other extraordinary expenses may be added to the basic child support amount. These include:

  • expenses for tuition, registration, books, and supply fees required for a child to attend a special or private elementary or secondary school to meet the needs of the child.

  • expenses for transportation of the child from one parent to the other.

  • special expenses incurred for activities intended to boost the health, athletic, social, or cultural development of a child. These activities include, but are not limited to, camp, music or art lessons, travel, and school-sponsored extracurricular activities.

Unless the parents agree, for the Court to include tuition expenses, the parent who wants to have those expenses added to the basic award will have to prove that the private or special school meets the needs of the child.

The Guidelines formula for calculating child support uses two different worksheets called "Worksheet A" and "Worksheet B". The Court will use Worksheet A when the parents are awarded joint custody of the child and one parent is named as the "domiciliary" parent. In cases where the Court decides that the parents equally share physical custody of the children, the Court will use Worksheet B.

The difference between the two formulas is the percentage of the total child support amount that each parent owes. The reason that the percentage is different is because both parents are responsible for the children's daily expenses for the time when the children are in their own custody.

Last Review and Update: Oct 29, 2021
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