In Louisiana, both parents must support their child’s financial, emotional, and medical needs, even if the couple separates or divorces. This means that both parents remain responsible for expenses involved in raising their child. Generally, however, the parents’ custody arrangement will impact a child support award.
In most cases, the “noncustodial parent” (parent who spends less than 50 percent of the time with the child) will pay child support to the other parent. The “custodial parent” is the parent who has primary custody of the child. Although the custodial parent is also responsible for financially supporting the child, the law assumes that this parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
A child support award will depend on the number of children involved, the income of both parents, and the parents’ custody arrangement. Louisiana has a child support calculator to help parents estimate child support obligations.
Payments may be less than the guideline amount in shared or split-custody arrangements or where the paying parent has a disability that limits earning capacity. Likewise, in certain circumstances, a court may increase child support if it would be in the child’s best interest. One example was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some judges adjusted support amounts to families particularly impacted by the hurricane.
You can estimate your share of support by using the child support schedule available on Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services website. The guidelines come up with a proposed support amount based on parents’ income levels and the number of children.
In addition to child support, one or both of the parents must cover the child’s medical care and the final child support amount may include extraordinary expenses for childcare or the child’s educational needs.
A parent’s “adjusted gross income” is all income, minus preexisting spousal support and child support orders for children from a previous relationship. For child support purposes, a parent’s “gross income” is all financial resources, including: salary, wages, bonuses, commissions, traditional pensions, military pensions, or severance pay.
Gross income may also include money received as gifts or employer allowances. Even if you are unemployed, chances are you still have some income in the form of Social Security payments, workers’ compensation, or unemployment benefits. Spousal support that you receive counts as income, too. Notably, one parent’s remarriage can impact previous alimony orders or child support awards.
In cases where a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, a court has the authority to impute income, and assign a higher income based on what that parent should be making.
To avoid an income imputation and resulting increase in a child support obligation, the unemployed or underemployed parent must show a good reason for not working or working for less. Some valid reasons for underemployment can be physical disability, mental incapacity, or care giving responsibilities for a child under five years old. Keep in mind, a court can’t impute income to a parent who has been temporarily unemployed or forced to take a lower-paying job as a result of a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina.
Physical custody of a child, or the amount of time a child spends with each parent, changes the way child support payments are calculated if both parents share equal time with a child (or children) or if you have split custodial duties for different children.
There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but your child support award may change depending on whether you have “sole custody” (the child lives with only one parent most of the time), “shared custody” (the child spends equal, or approximately equal time with each parent), or “split custody”(parents divide the kids between them, mom takes the older child while dad has the younger child, for example).
Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services provides worksheets to help calculate child support based on these different custody arrangements. You will have a good estimate of your child support payment once you complete these worksheets, but a court must still approve the final amount and ensure it’s in the child’s best interests.
There is a rebuttable presumption that the child support determined using the guidelines is the right amount. See La. Stat. Ann. §9:315.1 (2020). Sometimes, however, the final amount or the way that number is divided is unfair to a parent or the child, especially in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricanes Katrina or Rita.
Before a court issues a child support order, either parent can ask a court to adjust the amount of support either up or down based on the following factors:
Establishing a child support award is only half the battle—you’ll also need to collect it. The obligor parent (parent ordered by the court to pay child support) can make payments several ways, including by cash, check, direct deposit, bank transfer, or using payment apps, such as Venmo or Zelle.
Unfortunately, some parents go to extreme lengths to avoid paying support. If you’re having trouble collecting child support from an ex, contact Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services for help at 1-888-524-3578.
Once a child support order is in place, you can still ask the court to modify (change) it if necessary. A change is justified when there has been a material change in circumstances that results in a 25% increase or decrease in the amount of child support you currently pay or receive.
Common material changes in circumstance occur when a parent loses a job, suffers a permanent disability, or has a new child. On the other hand, if you have a child support order that does not include a child’s medical care, then you can also ask the court to change your order to include this amount, without having to show a change in circumstances.
For more information on issues surrounding child support, see our section Louisiana Divorce and Family Law.
Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services provides helpful resources for establishing child support, paternity, and for enforcing child support orders.