In general, child support refers to the periodic payments made from one parent to the other parent to help them provide financially for their shared child. These payments are necessary because raising a child is expensive and child support can help provide for the costs associated with rearing a child. 

A child support agreement is the document that is used to ensure that the required child support payments are actually made. 

More specifically, a child support agreement is an agreement formed between the parents of a child that provides the complete terms of their child support arrangements. These agreements are typically found in family law conflicts, such as divorce or legal separation

Ideally, the parties should put the child support agreement in writing, so that there is a record of the terms that were agreed to for child support payments. A child support agreement will usually include:

  • The parent who will be responsible for financial payments;
  • The amount of payment rendered; 
  • The frequency of payments (e.g., monthly, weekly, etc.); 
  • The duration of payments (child support normally ends when the child turns 18 years old); 
  • The types of costs that the child support should be used for (e.g., medical care expenses, educational costs, health insurance, special needs, after school activities, etc.); and
  • The expenses, if any, that are the responsibility of the custodial (nonpaying) parent. 

The most important aspect of any child support agreement is that it is created with the child’s best interests in mind, and not the personal preferences of either individual parent.

One more item that bears mentioning, in regard to child support agreements, is that although they follow the same basic federal guidelines for what to incorporate, state laws vary widely. Judges also have discretion over calculations. This point is crucial because it can change the terms of the child support agreement.   

How are Child Support Agreements Created?

There are three basic ways to form a child support agreement:

  • Through formal negotiations between the parties, which typically involves having separate lawyers to represent each party;
  • Through “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR), which is an out-of-court process that may involve arbitration, mediation, or evaluation; or
  • Through a court child support order that is issued during a divorce or a legal separation proceeding.

It is also possible to obtain a temporary order for child support from a court. These orders may be issued at the beginning of a divorce trial, so that a child does not lack financial support throughout the process. Once the divorce proceedings have concluded, the temporary order can then be converted into a permanent order for child support.

Are All Child Support Agreements Enforceable?

Regardless of how it was initially formed, a child support agreement generally needs to be put in writing and signed by both parents in order for it to be enforceable. If the child support agreement was created out-of-court, however, it should still be submitted to a judge for court approval. 

Submitting it to a court for review and approval will help to ensure that the child support arrangement complies with state guidelines. Also, child support agreements that are not approved by a court may not be immediately enforceable.

Additionally, if a court decides that a child support agreement is unacceptable for some reason, the court can then modify it. It can also reject it entirely and insist that the parties form a new one. Once a child support agreement is approved by the court, it is usually turned into a court order. 

When a child support agreement is made into a court order, it means that a parent can be held in contempt of court for violating a child support agreement. The parent can then potentially face serious sanctions, such as fines, jail time, and loss of certain civil privileges. 

Whether you are trying to enforce a child support agreement or attempting to modify one to avoid sanctions, a lawyer can help guide you through either process. They can help determine what options are available to give you the best results. In any case, if you are experiencing issues with a child support agreement, you should consult an attorney.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Support Agreements?

Child support agreements not only require full cooperation between the parents, but also absolute compliance with the law as well. As such, it is important to contact a child support lawyer for any questions or concerns that you may have regarding a child support agreement.

An experienced family law attorney can help check that your child support agreement is enforceable, complies with the local laws of your state’s jurisdiction, and incorporates terms that are fair for both you and your child. 

Additionally, a child support agreement provides the most protection when it is submitted to a court for approval. This ensures that the agreement was formed properly and in accordance with the law. It also preserves a record of the agreement for future reference, and can then be enforced by the court, if necessary. An attorney can help you manage this process as well.

Overall, the purpose of a child support agreement is to make certain that your child is well provided for. Having an attorney review your agreement, can further assist you in achieving this important result.