When two spouses terminate a marriage, a court will determine how the custody of the couple’s minor children will be divided between the parents. Custody includes both physical and legal aspects, which are two different components for the court to resolve. Additionally, the court will decide whether one parent should have sole custody of the children or whether both parents should share joint custody of the children.

Child support is part of the issues that arise when the parents divorce or separate. The court generally demands the non-custodial parent to pay the child support needed to maintain the financial well-being of the child. The custodial parent who generally resides with the child, receives the child support from the earning parent to cover the costs of raising a child.

What Factors Are Considered When Granting Child Support?

To properly equip the courts to assess the financial situation of parents involved in a child support action, each parent is required to make financial disclosures to the court. This allows the court to set the monthly income and expenses based on the income. Typically, income must include income from all sources, including employment, pensions, stocks and trusts.

However, some states allow a court to impose a support obligation on what a parent previously earned as income or what the parent is capable of earning, if the court discovers that the parent intentionally reduced his or her income to avoid a support obligation. Expenses include any housing expenses and any other outstanding loan obligations. The court may also consider factors that affect both what a parent can pay and the anticipated cost of raising a child in determining child support obligations.

The factors often consider the following scenarios for the child support payments:

  • Assets and liabilities of each parent;
  • Standard of living the child is accustomed to;
  • Amount of time the child resides with each parent;
  • Any special needs of the child are considered as well and;
  • If a parent is obligated to provide for other children, that will also be considered.

Furthermore, there are several methods used to calculate child support. Most states use an income shares method in figuring out child support obligations. The income shares method calculates the combined income of both parents and the projected monthly cost of raising a child, and mandates that each parent be responsible for the percentage of the cost that reflects the percentage their income constitutes of the combined income.

This means that if a parent’s income is fifty percent of the combined income, his or her support obligation would be fifty percent of the monthly cost of raising the child. A couple of the states utilize the Melson formula, which is a more complicated version of the income shares method, and which utilizes additional factors to determine each parent’s support obligation.

A minority of states consider a percentage of income model. In states that utilize the percentage of income model, the court only considers the income of the non-custodial parent, and bases the child support obligation upon a set percentage of that income. The percentage of income a parent is required to pay depends on the state you reside in. Depending on the regulations of the state, the percentage of income the non-custodial parent is obligated to pay may change according to the increases or decreases in his or her income.

For example, in some situations a court will include a cost of living adjustment clause in a support order, which permits for an automatic increase in support obligations based on the annual increase in cost of living. The cost of living clause assists in ensuring the child is provided with adequate financial support without frequent modifications to the support order.

How is Child Support Calculated?

The child support differs based on which state you reside in and where the lawsuit has been filed. Each state has set guidelines that dictate how support is to be assessed. Some states have well defined guidelines that make it easier for support obligations to be determined, while other states leave the determination of support obligations mainly up to the discretion of the court. Even in states with stricter guidelines, courts generally have the authority to deviate from support guidelines when they have a cause to do so.

The priority of all guidelines is ensuring the parents adequately provide for the child. In addition to providing financial support for the child, the support rules have provisions mandating that a child’s healthcare costs must be provided for as well, whether it be through insurance or other means. The guidelines also provide the self-support reserve to consider in determining support obligations.in general, the self-support reserve is the amount of money each parent needs to provide for his or her own support before a support obligation can be imposed on him or her.

When Can You Apply For a Child Support Modification?

As a child matures the circumstances change, and what may have been the best for a child or his or her parents when he or she was younger can no longer be practical or beneficial when the child grows up. Scenarios that may necessitate a change to a child custody arrangement include a change in the school the child attends or an increase in a child’s needs due to situations such as illness or mental health or developmental issues. However, if a parent is in violation of the current custody arrangement, it may initiate grounds for modification.

In some situations, a parent may have a concern regarding his or her co-parent’s ability to properly care for the child, either due to illness, increased job requirements or travel commitments, or other circumstances, and may apply for a modification. If the parents are not able to come to an agreement regarding a modification to the custody arrangement, they can request the court for a modification and the court will determine whether a modification is needed. Before granting the modification, the court will determine if it is in the child’s best interest.

How Are Child Support Orders Enforced?

It is legally required for all parents to pay child support once ordered to do so by the court in the event of a divorce or separation. If a parent fails or refuses to pay child support, the district attorney often will pursue the parent to set up a payment schedule and warn them that jail time could result if they refuse to cooperate. In practice, imposing jail time on a parent is a last resort after other penalties prove ineffective. Some of these penalties include:

  • attaching wages,
  • seizing property,
  • taking away a driver’s license, or
  • applying tax refunds to cover the amount owed.
  • Even if the parent has moved to a different state, courts in that state will help enforce a child support order.

If you start struggling with financial problems, you need to immediately inform the court and seek a modification of the child support amount before getting into debt. Courts can typically grant only a temporary adjustment, and will restore the initial amount when your situation improves.

When Do I Need to Contact a lawyer?

If you are paying child support or are requesting child support and facing issues regarding the payments, you can consult with a local child support lawyer about advice on your situation.