Becoming a parent is not a decision to take lightly. Once a person becomes a parent, they are required to provide support for their child or children. This support includes financial support. And, the obligation to support the child continues whether or not the parent has custody of the child, sees the child, has a relationship with the child, or even wants to have custody or a relationship with the child.

In most cases, courts never have to get involved in a parent’s support of their child. However, where paternity or custody is disputed, courts do get involved in child support issues.

What is a Child Support Order?

A child support order is an official court document where the court determines how much and how often a parent must support their child. This document is legally enforceable, meaning if it is violated, then there are legal consequences.

The amount of child support ordered to be paid is generally calculated based upon a formula. That formula usually takes into consideration numerous factors. Each state’s formula is different, but generally they include factors such as the income of the parent being ordered to pay child support. If you want to know the exact formula and how much child support you may owe, then you need to contact a local attorney for the best answer.

The formula will also include the number of children, the amount of time the child spends with the parent being ordered to pay support, any ongoing monthly medical expenses for the child, or other special needs the child has.

For example, a parent being ordered to pay support for a child with significant special needs requiring around-the-clock medical supervision will likely have a much higher child support payment than a parent being ordered to pay support for a child without any significant special needs where all other factors are equal.

It is also important to note that child support obligations may never be discharged, or stopped, unless declared by court order. This means that if financial circumstances change for the party paying child support, that party must request a modification of the order by the court. The party cannot file bankruptcy or try to be rid of their child support obligation through any other means.

How Do You Get a Child Support Order?

Child support orders are obtained through legal action. Usually a parent files either a paternity suit or a custody suit against the other parent. Through those proceedings, the court will determine (if it is a paternity case) that the parent really is the biological parent of the child, and then the court will determine how much the parent should be ordered to pay based upon the foregoing factors discussed.

Sometimes, parties may be able to agree to the amount of child support. Generally, courts will not allow a child support amount to be lower than what the court-endorsed formula would require, but the amount could be much greater if the parties agree. Further, the parties could also agree to dividing the cost for certain expenses related to the child.

For example, when parents have mutually agreed to enroll their child in an expensive private school, the parties might agree in a separation and divorce proceeding that one parent or the other should bear the burden of that expense. This would be part of the support of the child and could be enforced by the court.

Typically child support lasts until the child reaches the age of 18 or the child graduates from high school, whichever event occurs later. If a child does not graduate from high school until they are 21, then the parent paying child support is still obligated to pay support until that child graduates from high school (or achieves equivalent).

Parties may agree, however, to extend child support obligations past the child’s high school graduation. Not every state will endorse this agreement, but many will. This means that if the parties agree, for example, to maintain and split the cost of health insurance on their child until that child reaches the age of 26 and is no longer legally eligible to be on their medical insurance, then both parties are bound to provide that expense for their child even though the child is over the age of 18 and a high school graduate.

What Happens If You Violate a Child Support Order?

Violating a child support order can have serious repercussions. Courts have a variety of tools at their disposal to enforce their child support orders. These tools include garnishing wages, seizing tax returns, suspending professional licenses, suspending driver’s licenses, and even sentencing a non-paying parent to jail.

The court itself has the authority to enforce child support orders. Some state agencies also have the authority to enforce child support orders. This means that even if the other parent does not want to pursue the non-paying parent for unpaid child support, the court or state agency could still enforce the order.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Child Support Order?

Child support matters can be complicated and can affect your child’s wellbeing and future. It is important to speak to an experienced child support attorney if you are facing a situation involving child support.