Child support is a periodic support payment that is often ordered when two parents are no longer living together. Since it is in the best interests of the child to receive financial support from both parents, child support may be ordered in instances where a parent does not have contact with the child.
- Why is Child Support Necessary?
- Who is Required to Pay Child Support?
- How is the Amount of Child Support Determined?
- What are Some Additional Child Support Factors?
- How are Child Support Awards Enforced?
- What are Child Support Payment Modifications?
- Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Support Matters?
The short answer is: raising children is expensive. The purpose of child support is to help provide for the costs of raising the child. Child support payments are not intended to benefit the parent, but to benefit the child.
Usually, these payments provide for expenses such as:
- Food, shelter, and clothing;
- Health and medical care; and
- Educational expenses
The basic idea regarding the payment of child support is that an individual has a legal responsibility to support their own biological children. Either a father or a mother can be required by the court to pay child support, regardless of whether they are married.
If there is a dispute about who the child’s father is, the court may order a paternity test to make the determination. Generally speaking, stepparents are not obligated by law to pay child support, unless they have legally adopted the child.
The court determines the amount of child support payments, and this determination takes into account the unique circumstances of each individual case. Each state has specific guidelines that are used to calculate a range of child support to be paid, but the guidelines can vary greatly from state to state. Some states allow the courts quite a bit of leeway in determining the actual amount, while other states have very strict guidelines that the courts must follow closely.
No matter how much leeway the judge has in the case, the guidelines list specific factors that the court must consider.
These factors usually include considerations such as:
- The needs of the child, including health insurance, education, day care expenses, and any special needs the child may have;
- The income and needs of the custodial parent;
- The paying parent’s ability to pay; and
- The child’s standard of living before divorce or separation (if applicable)
Generally, the courts require each parent to complete a financial statement with details of their monthly income and expenses. Based on the financial information that the parents provide, as well as the amount of time each parent spends with the child, the court uses a standardized formula to calculate the exact amount of the payments.
Depending on your state, as well as the circumstances of the case, visitation arrangements may also be considered in how child support is calculated.
While the courts generally look at each parent’s gross income when determining child support payments, they also take into consideration mandatory deductions. These deductions can include things like taxes, social security, healthcare payments, mandatory union dues, professional licensing fees, and any other child support payments that they may already be responsible for.
However, some courts may also take into consideration a parent’s ability to earn versus actual earnings. Under this model, if you only make $30,000 a year, but you have the earning potential to make $100,000, a court may hold you responsible for an amount calculated based on the earning potential rather than your actual earnings.
Of course, having a child support order in place is great, but what happens if the parent required to contribute is not making their scheduled payments? If you are not receiving child support payments that are owed to you, there are ways to enforce the child support order.
You local district attorney can serve papers on the delinquent parent, requiring them to pay. If the non-paying parent still does not contribute their child support payments, then certain actions can be taken to compel payment.
These actions may include:
- Seizing tax refunds;
- Garnishing wages;
- Putting liens on property;
- Revoking driver’s licenses; and
- Revoking passports
Wage garnishments require the employer to withhold a certain portion of the non-paying parent’s wages and turn them over to the parent who is supposed to receive the payments. If they employer fails to follow this order, then the employer may also be subjected to penalties. Courts can also hold the non-complying parent in contempt of court, which may require that they pay additional attorney’s fees and court costs.
Child support payments can be changed or modified if the situation makes sense. Usually, modification requires the parent to show a “change in circumstances.” Changes in circumstances that would necessitate a change in the child support payment may include certain elements that affect either the ability of the parent to pay, or the needs of the child.
For example, changes in circumstance may include:
- Job change of either parent that increases or decreases income levels;
- Child custody or visitation changes;
- Temporary economic or medical hardship of the paying parents;
- A child’s medical emergency; and
- A change in the needs of the child
While there are many things that could point to a change in circumstances to support a modification of the child support requirements, this does not mean that the custodial parent can make a huge financial decision for the child and then force the non-custodial parent to pay for the expense. The court will still look at the circumstances on a case-by-case basis in order to determine which parent pays what share of the expenses (such as a case where the custodial parent decides to send the child to an expensive private school).
The court procedures for establishing and modifying child support can be confusing, and issues that relate to the family can often be emotionally charged. If you’re going through the process, it is in your best interests to consult a child support lawyer or an experienced family lawyer for advice. The right lawyer can help you protect your interests and make sure that you get the best possible outcome both for you and for your child.