How does South Carolina Determine Child Support?

A child support obligation can come up in a few different ways.

Parents divorce. One parent has primary custody of the child, and now the court orders the non-custodial parent to pay support.

Or, someone who never married to their child’s other parent wants help raising their child. That person can go to the court, and the court will order the other parent to pay child support.

In other words, when one parent has primary custody of a child, the court can order the other parent to pay child support. How the court comes up with that number is seemingly a mystery.

This article explains how the court calculates child support amounts.

South Carolina has a two-step approach to calculating child support. The first step is the South Carolina Child Support Guidelines.

Step 1: The South Carolina Child Support Guidelines

The Guidelines have a mathematical formula that helps the court and attorneys calculate the amount of child support one parent owes to another. The guidelines take into account a lot of different factors when coming up with a support figure.

These factors include:

  • Income of both parents
  • Number of children
  • Whether one parent is paying alimony to the other parent
  • Whether one parent is paying support to someone else
  • Number of unrelated children in the home
  • Certain expenses, like health insurance premiums or a child’s healthcare expenses
  • Work-related childcare costs

Divorces and breakups are turbulent times for both parents and the children. Courts aim to keep the child’s standard of living the same as if the parents were still together. Stability is key. The support amount is supposed to achieve this. The guidelines presume that a parent will contributes the same amount of their income to child care as they did before they split.

But, while the Guidelines help, they are not mandatory. Courts look to the Guidelines to suggest support amounts. The court does not have to follow the Guidelines.

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Step 2: Deviations from the Guidelines

The Guidelines give the court a starting point for calculating child support payments. But the Guidelines aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The court looks to other circumstances that aren’t included in the Guidelines.

These circumstances include:

  • Education expenses
  • Equitable distribution of property
  • Consumer debts
  • Whether a parent has six or more children
  • Parent’s medical expenses
  • Alimony payments
  • Disparity in income
  • Agreements between the parents
  • A child’s own income
  • Child’s medical expenses
  • Other legal support obligations
  • Pension deductions

Let’s go into some of these factors in a bit more detail.

Education Expenses:

This can come into play when a child goes to a private school or daycare. It can also include school supplies and extra-curricular activities like sports leagues.

Equitable distribution of property:

When a couple divorces, the court divides the marital property. There are many ways the court can do this. Dividing property “equitably” does not mean dividing it equally. The court can consider a support obligation as a way to even out the property each parent gets. This means that the person paying may get more marital property in the divorce. The court also considers which parent gets a house. The court will look at the value of the house and adjust the support amount.

Consumer debts:

Courts look at debts when dividing property. They also look at debts when calculating support payments. If one parent has a lot of debt, the court will consider this in calculating support payments.

Parent medical expenses:

If a parent has a lot of medical expenses or chronic health problems, courts consider this too. A parent’s income will be small if he or she is too sick to work. Also, courts don’t want parents having to choose between supporting themselves and supporting their kids.

Disparity in income:

It’s common for one parent to make more money than the other. When the difference is very big, child support calculations under the guidelines may look one-sided. But the court can adjust a support amount up or down to make the payment amount more realistic. Courts also take into account alimony payments.


Parents can agree how much to pay. When parents agree, the court determines whether the agreement is fair. If it is fair, the court usually accepts that amount.

Child medical expenses:

Sometimes a child will have healthcare costs. This includes dental visits, vision appointments, annual check-ups, and prescription costs. It also includes extreme costs when a child is very sick. When the Guidelines don’t take these costs into account, the court can adjust support payments downward.

Other child support obligations:

Some parents may owe child support to a former partner. When a parent is paying support to several former partners, it can lead to financial hardship. The court may take this into consideration. The court wants to find a workable solution for both the parents and the child.

Related: How to Enforce or Modify Out of State Child Support Orders

How long do I have to pay child support?

Once the court orders a parent to pay, the parent has to pay until the child turns 18. There are a few exceptions to this, though.

  • If the supported child’s 18th birthday happens when the child is still in school, the support obligation continues until the child graduates from high school. But, if the child turns 19 before graduating from high school, the parent no longer has to support the child.
  • If the child is emancipated before his 18th birthday, a parent no longer has to pay support.
  • Parents may agree that the other does not have to pay anymore. But like all private agreements in family court, this is subject to the judge’s discretion. The court will make sure neither parent coerced the other into the agreement. Also, the court will make sure this is in the best interests of the child.
  • If the child is disabled, the support obligation may continue after the child turns 18.

For more information, read our article: Does Child Support End Automatically in South Carolina?

What happens if I stop paying child support?

Every parent has a duty to support his or her children. When a court enters a support order against a parent, the stakes are raised. If a parent refuses to pay support, they are also refusing to follow a court order. This is contempt of court. Not following a court order makes the parent subject to the court’s sanctioning powers. This means the court can issue a warrant for your arrest.

Long story short: if you don’t pay, you could go to jail.

Let’s Chat!

The Maron Law Group, located in Mount Pleasant, SC, helps its clients with child support-related issues. Whether you’re seeking child support, or you want a modified, we can help. We serve families all over South Carolina, including Charleston County, Dorchester County, Berkeley County, and Beaufort County. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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