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Do I Have to Pay Child Support If I Share 50/50 Custody?

Right up there with divorces, child support is another heavily litigated issue within family law. Litigating child support seems a bit counterintuitive when you think of it, considering that child support is usually a matter of simple calculations. 

Nearly half of the marriages in the United States end in a divorce, resulting in an overwhelming number of child custody cases. Usually, separation leads to lopsided custody arrangements. The non-custodial parent must pay certain amounts — monthly — in child support to the other parent, who is mostly responsible for the child’s care.

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But what happens when you and your partner both get equal custody of your child(ren)? Do you pay child support with 50/50 custody? It would be a mistake to make any assumptions as far as this is concerned because the custodial arrangement you have with the other party doesn’t determine whether or not you have to pay support.

Do I Have to Pay Child Support with Joint Custody?

If custody is 50/50 do you pay child support? We’re sorry to be the one to break it to you but yes. The basic idea of child support arrangements is that they are meant to help the custodial parent with expenses associated with caring for the child. 

So, when both parents share custody, that should mean you won’t have to pay child support, right? Wrong. In several states, family court judges have some latitude in determining whether or not child support payments are necessary, even when the separating partners have joint custody. 

The Purpose of Child Support

Raising a child has multiple associated costs. The one parent who has custody has to provide things like:

  • Suitable lodgings;
  • Nutrition;
  • Medical expenses;
  • Tuition and sundry education expenses; and
  • Extracurriculars.

So, child support is the non-custodial parent’s contribution to providing these basic needs of the child.

Child support and child custody are separate

While child custody is the legal right of the custodial parent to house, cater to, and make important decisions concerning the child’s welfare, child support is the legally mandated monthly payment required of the non-custodial parent as their contribution toward the costs of raising their child.

Also read:How to Win Temporary Custody of Your Child

When parents of minor children separate or file for divorce, the court will usually hold a temporary child custody hearing to determin...

It’s also not to be confused with spousal support payments. While child support payments are restricted to child-related expenses alone, spousal support payments cover a broader range of expenses.

Child Support in Joint Custody Arrangements

Custody arrangement isn’t the only factor the courts consider in determining child support payments. There are usually several other factors that determine the child support arrangement the courts decide. Generally, these include but are not limited to:

  • Child custody;
  • Childcare expenses;
  • Income of both parents; and
  • The number of children.

However, in a 50/50 custody child support situation, the custody arrangement doesn’t really count toward the court’s decision, but the other factors still do. Also, in some states, judges are allowed limited deviation from the law in making their decisions. (However, they must have valid reasons for these deviations, which they must include in their judgment.)

How is child support calculated in 50/50 custody situations?

Individual state laws dictate child support calculation in 50/50 custody situations. But the common feature of family law across the states is that child support has an income share model. And that for parents whose monthly earnings are roughly similar, child support payments are not usually necessary. 

For example, in California, child support payments are calculated as a set percentage of the difference in the earnings of both parents, and the partner with the higher-grossing income pays. This percentage is usually 15 percent in California alone.

However, there are no specific formulas for child support with 50/50 custody in most parts of the country, considering it’s a pretty tricky situation. It’s usually left to the courts to decide who pays child support in 50-50 custody, in line with the law’s deviation.

For 50/50 custody and child support issues, you need to consult family law attorneys near you so they can provide professional guidance and help you reach an agreement, so you don’t leave feeling as if you got the short end of the stick.

An example of child support payments in a divorce with 50/50 custody

Under California law, for example, a couple who both earn $2,500 monthly might not have to make child support payments. But, when one party earns $5,000 and the other earns $3,000, the partner must pay $300 in monthly child support payments, which is 15 percent of the difference between the parents’ incomes.

However, as we have said, results may vary in other parts of the country where the law isn’t as specific as it is in California.

Will the higher-grossing income always pay child support?

The purpose of child support payment is to keep the child(ren) living in the economic conditions they have grown accustomed to before the parents’ separation. This is to minimize disruptions to their lives at an early age.

So, in a 50/50 custody case, in which one party earns a significantly higher income than the other, the court will very likely mandate the partner with the higher-grossing income to pay child support. The parent with a lesser-grossing income can’t provide the children with the lifestyle they are used to without help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about child support, especially in 50/50 custody situations. 

However, you must bear in mind that all these answers may vary depending on the state in which you’re resident and should be discussed during the consultation with your lawyer.

My former partner is preventing me from seeing my kids, even though we are supposed to have 50/50 custody. Can I stop paying child support?

In most states in the United States, the law does not permit resorting to self-help. So, unilaterally halting your regular payments might open you up to legal liability. What you can do is return to the courts and follow due process for seeking redress.

My ex-partner and I agreed on a 50/50 custody situation without child support payments. But the situation has changed; my children now live full-time with my ex. Will I be required to pay child support?

It is possible, but it depends. In Colorado, for example, the law requires that child support agreements change to match changes in custody. But, of course, this also depends on state law. You need the assistance of legal counsel near you to successfully navigate situations like this.

What should I do if I don’t know what my ex-partner earns?

Before the judge hands down the order, the court would first have to see evidence of income from both parties. But, in case the court doesn’t lead with this, you can always request that the judge order that your ex brings the necessary documents for evaluation.


Divorces are unpleasant, but they don’t have to get messy. So, what can you do when you find yourself separated from your spouse and with an obligation to pay child support with 50/50 custody? Immediately contact a family law attorney near you to help navigate the situation. And not just for custody and child support litigation, but every other thing involved in the separation process.

Article by Sofi Ostymchuk

Sofi Ostymchuk was a Content Lead and Legal Writer at Lawrina. Sofi managed the content on the blog, communicated with contributors, looked for interesting topics, and created articles in cooperation with lawyers and law experts.

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