Typically, when two parents live together with their child or children, each parent contributes to supporting those children. The parents pay for utilities on their home, mortgage or rent, school supplies, medical appointments, food, clothing, and on and on to provide for their children.

However, when those parents no longer live together, and the children live with either both parents part time or one parent full time, courts will usually require both parents to continue to support their children financially. This support is referred to as child support.

This is the case even if a non-custodial parent is not emotionally or even physically in the child’s life. Most often the parent who does not have primary physical custody of the child (the non-custodial parent) is the parent that pays child support.

Public policy has long held that when two people conceive a child, both parties are responsible for supporting that child. Therefore, courts will not only order child support but also have an interest in enforcing their child support orders.

How Is Child Support Determined?

Each state has different criteria that it examines to determine a fair amount of child support. Usually, that criteria includes

  • Both parents’ income;
  • Earning potential;
  • The number of children needing support;
  • The amount of time the child or children spend with each parent; 
  • The standard of living before a divorce or separation; and 
  • The needs of the child.

For example, where custody is split as close to evenly as possible, each parent is presumably supporting the child when in their custody. Therefore, the arrangement being fairly equal, there is not likely to be a large child support order against one parent or the other (unless, however, one parent is significantly more wealthy than the other parent).

Courts try to avoid having children experience vastly different standards of living at each parent’s house, such as a child living in a trailer park with their mom but in a six-bedroom mansion with their dad.

The amount of support may also be different for each child in a family. If one child has severe physical disabilities and requires round-the-clock nursing care, but another child has no such special needs, the court may order a different level of support for each child even though they’re in the same family.

What Expenses Does Child Support Cover?

The short answer is that child support covers necessities. Each state defines necessities a little differently, but the basic necessities all include food, shelter, and clothing. Some states have determined that necessities also include educational expenses including some extra-curricular activities, some entertainment expenses, medical care, transportation, and more.

Some courts will outline what the child support order covers in the order itself so that there’s no speculation between parents about how the child support payment may be used.

What Happens If Child Support Isn’t Used for Necessities?

Proving misuse of child support can be very difficult. However, if it is obvious that the child is not being properly supported (not adequately dressed, not being properly fed, etc.) this can be a sign that the custodial parent is misusing child support funds. This is especially true if the custodial parent is going to lavish parties without the child, buying expensive clothes for themselves, buying expensive jewelry, or going on posh trips without the child,

A family law attorney can help you determine what your rights are in this situation.

What Happens If Child Support Isn’t Paid?

A more common scenario in child support matters is when the parent who has been ordered to pay child support fails to make payments. If a parent is not making child support payments, states usually have a designated agency or attorney who can sue to collect payments on behalf of the child.

Consequences for not paying child support include:

  •  Garnishing wages;
  • Suspending the parent’s occupational license like a medical license or law license;
  •  Suspending the parent’s business license;
  • Suspending the parent’s driver’s license;
  • Placing a lien on real property;
  •  Withholding federal tax return money;
  • Withholding government benefits;
  • Revocation of the parent’s passport; or
  • Jail time

Courts will usually do what they can to prevent suspending licenses or putting a parent in jail over failed child support payments, because when a parent can’t work, they can’t earn money to pay child support anyway. However, in situations in which a parent is not being responsive, these are options the court has to enforce child support.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help Enforcing Child Support?

Getting and enforcing child support can be a tricky legal issue. Oftentimes child support is critical to a child’s future, and states have an interest in ensuring that children within the state have their needs met.

If you need advice on handling a child support matter, contact an experienced child support attorney to assist you.  A seasoned child support attorney can make sure you are consistently getting the right amount of support to provide for your child’s needs.