Child support is the amount of money a parent is required by law to pay to the spouse who retains primary custody of the child. Child support is intended for the benefit of the child, and usually pays for:
  • Food, shelter, and clothing
  • Health and medical care
  • Educational expenditures

Who Is Obligated to Pay Child Support?

Either a father or a mother can be required to pay child support, regardless of whether they are married or not. If there is a dispute about who the child's father is, a paternity test can be ordered. Stepparents are not obligated by law to pay child support unless the stepparent legally adopts the children.

Determining 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 their 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. Child visitation arrangements may have a bearing on how child support is calculated - review the article child visitation guidelines for more information. Either parent can delay a determination of the child support amount by requesting a reservation of child support.

Additional Factors in Determining Child Support:

Most courts generally look at each parents' gross income, minus any mandatory deductions like taxes, social security, healthcare, mandatory union dues, and other child support payments they may already be responsible for. Some courts may take into consideration a spouse's ability to earn versus actual earnings. Thus, if you have an income of $30,000 but have the earning potential to make $100,000, a court may hold you responsible for the higher amount. The courts may also deem relevant the standard of living of the child before divorce or separation.

Enforcing a Child Support Award

If you are not receiving child support payments that are owed to you, the district attorney of each state can help by serving the delinquent parent with papers requiring him or her to pay. If the non-paying parent still does not contribute their child support, the district attorney can take any of the following actions against the delinquent parent:

Modification of Child Support Payments

Child support payments may be modified if warranted by the situation. Usually, modification requires a showing of a "change in circumstances." A change in circumstance may include:
  • Job change of either party that increases or decreases income levels
  • Child custody or visitation changes
  • Temporary economic or medical hardship of the paying spouse
  • A child's medical emergency
  • Needs of the child change

Do I Need an Attorney?

Unless both parents agree on an amount for child support, you will need to go into court to establish or modify child support. The court procedure for establishing or modifying child support can be very confusing, so it may be wise to consult with a child support lawyer to make sure your interests are protected.