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Choice of Guidelines in Virginia Child Support Cases

Virginia CodeVirginia law recognizes the obligation of parents to support their children financially, and the Virginia child support guidelines account for that fact. The guidelines take into account the gross incomes of the parties, health insurance expenses incurred for the children, work-related childcare costs, and support of other children who were not born between the parties. Because both parents are financially responsible to and for their children, each parent is made responsible for a certain percentage of the whole child support amount determined under the guidelines, with the whole child support amount equaling what the parents would be able to provide for the children in the event the family still resided in one household.

As stated in our Guide to Child Support in Virginia, Virginia has different child support guidelines for sole, split and shared custody arrangements. Each guideline is different and takes into account a very specific custodial arrangement. The purpose, use, and method of determination under each guideline is as follows:

Sole Custody Guidelines

The sole custody guidelines are probably the most commonly used. Under these guidelines, the court determines the total child support obligation owed to the children based upon the combined gross incomes of the parents, and then the child support obligation is divided between the parents in proportion to their monthly gross incomes.

Example: Jeff and Judy share one child, who resides primarily with Jeff. Jeff earns $5,000 per month, and Judy makes $4,000 per month, for a combined monthly total of $9,000. Jeff’s income is thus 55.6% of the total combined monthly gross income of the parties, while Judy’s income accounts for the remaining 44.4%. Under the sole custody guidelines found in Virginia Code § 20-108.2, the total support obligation owed for the child is $984 per month. Judy will owe Jeff (the primary custodian of the child) her proportional share of that figure. Specifically, Judy will owe: $984 x 44.4% = $437 per month in child support to Jeff.

[As noted above, in addition to the gross monthly incomes of the parents, all of the child support guidelines also factor in healthcare insurance expenses, work-related childcare costs, and support of other children. To keep things simple, this example does not involve such expenses.]

Shared Custody Guidelines

The shared custody guidelines are used in many (although not all) cases where one parent has the child for more than 90 days per year. Under these “shared support” guidelines, the court reviews the ratio in which the parents share custodial time with the children, and support is calculated using that ratio along with the parties’ respective shares of monthly gross income.

The first step in calculating support under these guidelines is determining how many days each parent has the children in their care each year. In Virginia, this is done by determining the “day count” for the minority custodian for an average year, and the balance of the year is then attributed to the majority custodian.

For these purposes, Virginia Code § 20-108.2 defines a day as

a period of 24 hours; however, where the parent who has the fewer number of overnight periods during the year has an overnight period with a child, but has physical custody of the shared child for less than 24 hours during such overnight period, there is a presumption that each parent shall be allocated one-half of a day of custody for that period.

In other words: 24 hours straight counts as one day, and a stay less than 24 hours still counts as half a day if it includes an overnight.

The definition of a day can be confusing, so I provide the following examples:

  • Visitation from 5:00 p.m. Monday to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday = 1 day.
  • Visitation from 5:00 p.m. Monday to 8:00 a.m. Tuesday = 0.5 days.
  • Visitation from 5:00 p.m. Monday to 8:00 a.m. Wednesday = 1.5 days.
  • Visitation from 5:00 p.m. Friday to 8:00 a.m. Monday = 2.5 days.

The math for the shared guidelines is probably the most difficult to explain, as well as the most difficult to follow. Because we are looking both at the respective custody shares of the parties and their respective income shares, this calculation can often be much more complicated than a simple calculation under the sole child support guidelines. Suffice it to say: in cases where one parent has the child or children for more than 90 days per year, that parent may owe less in child support under the shared guidelines than the sole child support guidelines.

Split Custody Guidelines

The split custody guidelines are utilized when the parents have two or more children between them, and each parent is the primary custodian of at least one of their children. These guidelines are probably the ones relied upon most infrequently.

Under these guidelines, the court calculates what each parent would pay under the sole child support guidelines for any children in their care, and then orders the party who owes the most to pay the difference between the two amounts.

Example. Let’s say that instead of one child, Jeff and Judy have two children: one residing primarily with Jeff, and one living primarily with Judy. As stated above, based on their incomes the total child support obligation for one child is $984, and Judy would owe Jeff $437 for the one child in his care. However, Jeff would also owe Judy $547 ($984 x Jeff’s 55.6% of combined gross income) for the one child in her care. The court would thus order Jeff to pay Judy the difference—$109 per month—in child support.

[Again, for purposes of simplification this example does not involve any expenses for healthcare insurance, work-related childcare costs, or support of other children.]


Child support can be confusing. If you have a child support matter in Virginia, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney to determine which guidelines the court will likely apply in your case, and the likely result in monthly child support. The family lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. are experienced with child support issues in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.