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An Overview of Child Support
Child support is the predetermined sum of money paid (usually monthly) to the spouse who retains primary custody of the child. The amount is set by the custody agreement and is required by law. Child support is intended for the benefit of the child, and usually pays for the basic necessities such as:
- Food, housing and clothing;
- Health insurance and medical care; and
- Educational expenses.
Child support is not intended to be used for the benefit of either parent; instead, it is the child or children who should benefit primarily from the support amounts. Also, child support is intended for the provision of basic necessities, not luxury items or items that are not necessary for the child’s upbringing.
Child support determinations involve a complex process that considers several factors in relation to the child. All determinations are made with the child’s best interests in mind, which has standards that can vary from state-to-state.
How Do You Determine the Amount of Child Support?
Courts generally require each parent to complete a financial statement before making a decision on child support. In the financial statement, the parent must detail his or her monthly income and expenses.
Based on the financial information and the amount of time each parent spends with the child, the Court uses a standard formula to determine the child support amount.
Generally speaking, the court may review several different factors when calculating monthly child support amounts. These can include:
- The child’s age, gender, and overall background;
- Whether the child has any special academic needs;
- Whether the child has any special physical or medical needs;
- The income level and educational background of each parent involved;
- The number of children involved in the custody arrangement;
- Each parent’s history in terms of previous child support payments; and/or
- Various other factors that the court determines to be relevant.
Can Child Support Payments be Adjusted?
While most child support payment arrangements are intended to be set for long periods of time, they can sometimes be adjusted or changed, depending on the situation. This is often done through a process known as child support modification, where the court may adjust or change the current child support order. For instance, the court may allow the support amounts to be lowered in some cases. These typically involve major life changes such as:
- A change in location or residence of one of the parties;
- A loss of employment;
- Reductions in salaries; and/or
- Various other major life changes that can impact child support payments.
Child support modifications are not available in all situations. These depend largely on the court’s discretion, as well as the needs of the child or children involved. Generally speaking, if the modification in child support will not benefit the child, the court will not allow a change in the amounts required.
Most modification requests are asking the court to lower payments; in other cases, a parent may be asking for more support amounts to accommodate new needs for the child.
Whose Obligation is it to Pay Child Support?
Payment of child support can be required of all parents (fathers or mothers, or parents in a same sex union) regardless of whether they are married or not. In disputes about who the child's father is a paternity test can be required or ordered. Step-parents are not obligated by law to pay child support unless the step-parent has legally adopted the child or children.
In many instances (though not all), one child will have custody of the child for the majority of the time. This parent is known as the custodial parent, while the other parent is known as the non-custodial parent. In many cases, the non-custodial parent will be required to pay child support. This is because the custodial parent will typically have more responsibilities in raising the child than the non-custodial parent, and thus will have more expenses associated with the child.
Again, each case is different, and the courts will always appoint child support responsibilities according to the arrangement that most benefits the child and meets their needs.
What Happens If Child Support Payments are Not Being Made?
Failure to pay child support is a common issue that many families face. In such cases, the court may need to intervene to collect the missing payments amounts, known as "child support arrears". Here, the court may issue an additional court order requiring the parent to make the payments. Repeated failure to provide child support payments can result in legal consequences, such as a contempt order with the court, wage garnishment, or even criminal consequences.
Wage garnishment occurs when the court allows the paying parent’s employer to set aside some of the person’s wages, to be used for paying the unpaid child support amounts. These are taken directly from their paycheck and processed with the court, to be used for the child’s expenses.
Where Can You Find a Child Support Lawyer?
Child support laws can be complex, and the process of determining child support can involve many steps. You may need to hire a child support lawyer if you need assistance with any aspect of child support, whether it be collecting child support, getting a support order modified, or other issues. Your attorney can provide you with guidance and representation needed to resolve the issue.
If you are looking for more information on child support, you can check out the following pages: