Child support, also referred to as child maintenance, refers to recurring monthly payments that are made by one parent (usually the noncustodial parent) to the other parent when a child’s parents become separated or file for divorce.
A family law court will be responsible for determining and setting the amount of child support that should be paid to the custodial parent based on the child support formula in their state. The court will also typically evaluate the circumstances of each individual case by considering specific factors. These include the income of the supporting parent, that parent’s ability to pay child support, and the needs of the child.
Some other important items that will likely factor into the court’s decision of the amount of child support that must be paid include:
- The child’s standard of living prior to the divorce or separation period;
- The needs of the child and the associated costs of those needs (e.g., education, health insurance, day care expenses, extracurriculars, etc.);
- The needs and income of the custodial parent;
- The ability of the custodial parent to support the child;
- Whether the child has special needs (e.g., health issues, medical disability, special equipment, home care assistance, etc.);
- The number of children that the noncustodial parent will be supporting; and/or
- Whether the noncustodial parent is already paying child support for children from a previous marriage or relationship.
The court will require each parent to complete a form that contains financial information about their monthly earnings, expenses, and total amount of assets before issuing the official child support order. Some courts will also consider the amount of time that each parent spends with the child, each parent’s ability to earn a higher income versus what they currently make, and whether the parents have any mandatory deductions (e.g., taxes, social security, licensing fees).
Depending on which party you are (e.g., the custodial or noncustodial parent), you will have to demonstrate either your need for child support payments or the noncustodial parent’s ability to make child support payments.
For instance, if you are the custodial parent, you will need to prove that you are the child’s primary caregiver and that you cannot financially support the child without receiving financial assistance from the noncustodial parent. You should also demonstrate the noncustodial parent’s ability to make child support payments by submitting bank statements or other documents that provide their income.
On the other hand, if you are the noncustodial parent and believe you should pay less in child support, you need to prove that the custodial parent has a higher salary and can afford to pay more than you. Alternatively, if you want to make a strong case for why you should not be responsible for paying child support, then you will need to show exactly why.
For example, if you are not the child’s biological parent, you may need to take a DNA test that proves as much. If your reasoning for not paying child support has to do with your belief that you are the child’s custodial parent, then you will need to provide evidence that supports that belief. An example of this is statements showing that the other parent is constantly traveling for work.
It should be noted, however, that the amount of child support that a parent will be required to pay is generally set according to each state’s child support formula. Thus, in many cases, the amount that a parent will be ordered to pay is not up to either parent, but a state statute.
Therefore, to prepare a strong case for child support, you will either need to focus on demonstrating your child’s needs and your inability to pay for those needs without the other parent’s financial assistance. Alternatively, you will have to show that you do not make enough money to meet the amount and support yourself, or that the custodial parent has a higher income and can afford to both care for the child as well as can support them financially.
What Documentation and Questions Should I Gather Before I Meet with My Child Support Lawyer?
As previously discussed, strong child support cases are able to demonstrate a clear and absolute need for child support payments. Thus, many of the documents that a custodial parent should gather before meeting with a child support lawyer are those that demonstrate this need.
For example, suppose that the custodial parent is a homemaker and does not have a job outside of the home because they take care of the household and children all day. In such a case, they should submit household receipts, personal bank account statements that show they do not have an active income, and most importantly, their joint bank account statements.
Basically, any financial statements or records that demonstrate the need for child support. Some other examples of such evidence include:
- Joint tax returns;
- The child’s birth certificate (e.g., to show they are the biological parent);
- Credit card statements and credit reports;
- Investment or retirement account statements;
- Healthcare or other benefits (especially, if they are from the working parent);
- Medical records if the child has an ongoing health condition;
- List of the child’s needs and the costs associated with of each of those needs; and/or
- Various other documents that prove the need for child support, the parent’s inability to pay for the child’s same lifestyle without it, and that they are the child’s custodial parent.
Parents meeting with a child support lawyer should also come up with a list of questions they have for the lawyer. For instance, if they have not officially hired a child support lawyer yet, then they should ask them questions about billing and how the lawyer intends to handle their case.
On the other hand, if they have already retained the services of a child support lawyer, then they should ask them any questions they have about the case or about child support in general (e.g., how long they may have to pay child support for, etc.).
What Makes a Child Support Case Strong? What Makes it Weak?
All of the factors that were discussed above will assist in building a strong case for child support, namely, documents that prove there is either a need or no need for child support payments.
A weak child support case, however, will prove exactly the opposite. For instance, if a parent is claiming they should get child support, but in reality are equipped to support the child better than the other parent, then this can make their case to receive child support payments weak.
In contrast, if a parent is claiming that they should not have to pay child support, but in reality, the other parent depends on them financially, then this can make the case weak.
What are Some Dos and Don’ts for Child Support Cases?
Some dos for child support cases include the following:
- Do try to cooperate and work with the other parent first before asking a court to intervene. Not only can this achieve the best results for the child, but it can also save money and resources if the parents can resolve their child support issues outside of court.
- Do draft a parenting agreement that defines child custody, child visitation, and child support arrangements. Then submit the agreement and attach all supporting documents (e.g., mediation certificate) to the court for consideration or approval.
- Do become familiar with the different types of child custody and the guidelines for the state’s child support formula. The parents can use this information to determine the type of child custody they wish to obtain and to estimate how much they may need to pay in child support.
Some don’ts for child support cases include the following:
- Do not calculate personal expenses into the amount requested for child support. Keep in mind that child support can only be used to pay for the child’s necessities like clothing, food, medical costs, and educational expenses.
- Do not miss any legal proceedings, court hearings, and/or mediation sessions regarding child support payments.
- Do not engage in destructive behavior with the other parent (e.g., do not harass them, threaten them, or inflict harm on the other party).
- Do not use the amount of child support payments to “win” the divorce or as a means to “get back at” the other parent. No one will win this way; especially, not the child.
When Do I Absolutely Need a Lawyer for Child Support?
Child support attorneys are most often needed when the parties getting a divorce have a contentious relationship or have to modify or amend a child support order. They are also needed when there is a dispute over child support payments, or if either of the parties were previously married and are already making separate child support payments to a different former spouse.
Thus, if any of these factors apply to you and the other parent’s situation, then you may want to hire a local child support lawyer to handle your case. You may also want to retain the services of a child support lawyer if you do not understand the law or how to manage a child support case.
A lawyer who has experience in dealing with child support cases can explain the relevant family laws in your state as well as the legal procedures required to obtain a child support order. In addition, your lawyer can also help you build a persuasive child support case and can provide representation in a family law court.