Child support is a set amount of money paid to the spouse who retains primary custody of the child. These payments are required by law and are for the benefit of the child or children; thus, the mother of the child and you may not agree to waive child support payments.
Child support typically pays for expenses such as food, shelter, clothing, medical expenses, etc. Regardless of your marital status, if you are legally the father of the child, then you are required to make child support payments.
Every state has a different definition for how a father is legally defined. In some states, simply living with the child’s mother and raising the child as your own is enough to define you as a legal father.
Once legality has been established, it is very unlikely that even a negative paternity test will break your legal obligations as the child’s father. If you are questioning if the child is biologically yours, it is in your best interest to have a paternity test done in the limited timeframe after the child is born, before legality is established.
It is important to note that each state and situation may have a different set of laws and standards. Some states specifically reference negative paternity tests, while others may decide the father’s legal obligations on the fact that the family relies on those obligations.
Because of this, it is important to be educated on your state’s stance and be informed of your legal responsibilities. You can read more about child custody laws between unmarried parents to further educate yourself.
What Establishes a Child’s Paternity?
The following are some examples of what will legally bind you to making child support payments, even if paternity has yet to be established:
- You are named as the father on the child’s birth certificate;
- You have registered yourself as the child’s father;
- You are legally married to the mother of the child (this creates the presumption that the child was born of the marriage and you are the father); or
- If you and the mother are divorced, the child was born within three hundred days of the divorce.
In most cases, paternity is established without legal action if the parents are married to each other. If unmarried, a court order is required to establish paternity. Additionally, if paternity has been established by any of the above circumstances, the father receives visitation rights in addition to be legally obligated to make child support payments.
How Much can a Father Expect to Pay for Child Support?
Every state has a different formula that they utilize when determining child support payments. Generally, the court looks at:
- The income of both parents;
- How many children require support;
- The needs of the child or children;
- Whether the child has disabilities or special needs that will cause child care expenses to be higher than average; and
- Whether the child has any permanent disabilities that may last into adulthood which would hold the father legally responsible for support payments for the rest of the child’s life.
A figure is calculated based on these factors, as well as whatever formula each state utilizes.
What if there is no court order in place to direct child support payments? Even without a court order, a father is legally obligated to pay for costs associated with the upbringing and wellbeing of his children.
A court order serves to protect the paying parent from the non paying parent demanding of them any additional money that is not necessary. The court order also helps the paying parent be responsible and consistent with their child support payments.
Another issue is back child support, which can add up over time. Because of this, ignoring child support orders is absolutely unwise. The state will enforce payment even if years have passed.
If I were to Marry a Mother with Children, am I Legally Obligated to Financially Support My Step-Children?
This varies from state to state, but generally, no. State laws differ on step-parent and child rights, which includes financial relationships and obligations. Usually you will not be held responsible for the financial support of your new children. However, if you have legally adopted the children, that changes and you will be required to support them financially.
There is a caveat to this information. The doctrine of estoppel, or “detrimental reliance,” could hold you liable for financial support even if you did not adopt your step-children. If your wife and children depend on your financial support so totally that they will be worse off without it, then you cannot stop your support.
The doctrine basically prevents one party from withdrawing their promise made to another party, if that party has relied on that promise within reason. Thus, if your wife declined a job that would allow her to support her children because you agreed to support to them, you will most likely be unable to stop support payments as that situation would fall under the protection of estoppel.
Do I Need an Attorney if I am Unmarried Father and I Need to Pay Child Support?
Child support issues are complex and can have serious consequences on parents, as well as the children involved. You will need to understand your rights and your state’s laws.
A knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney will help you determine your rights, explain all applicable laws, and present you with any options you may have in your case. The attorney will also represent you at any necessary hearings.