Many parents have questions about child support. Child support is a critical aspect of a child’s upbringing, so it is essential that a person understand how child support laws work.

Some of the most frequently asked questions regarding child support are:

What Is Child Support Supposed to Cover?

Child support is intended to cover the expense of providing a child’s basic living necessities, including food, shelter, clothing, education, the cost of necessary medical treatment, and reasonable recreation. Luxury items are usually not covered by child support.

Child support is also not designed to cover the living expenses of the custodial parent. Child support arrangements are legally enforceable if they have been ordered by a court, or if the parents have a valid child support agreement in place.

How Is the Amount of Child Support Calculated?

Child support amount calculations are determined based on various factors that relate to the financial situation of the child and its parents. For instance, a court usually considers the child’s age, physical characteristics, development, and medical needs when setting the support amounts.

A court also places great weight on the income level of the parents, as well as their earning capacity, education, and financial background. A court also considers other factors such as whether the custodial parent has remarried and is receiving financial support from their new spouse.

Specific family law courts in certain states may publish more detailed guidance on how the courts calculate child support. The information may be posted on the court’s website. In addition, local family law attorneys would be well informed about the details regarding how the local court calculates child support.

If a person seeks child support as part of a divorce proceeding, in most states, the person would petition the court for child support. There may be court-ordered forms that have to be submitted. This would be one of the documents needed to file for a child support order.

Federal and state laws require a court to issue a child support order if it issues a custody order. Therefore, if a person has a divorce case involving children, the person and their spouse are both required to file detailed financial information with the court.

Basically, a person can expect to have to submit documentation to show their monthly expenses, their income and their assets, e.g. bank accounts, real property owned and the like. This is the information that a court uses to determine the amount of child support.

If a person seeks child support from the other parent of their child outside of a divorce proceeding, then the person may turn to a local Office of Child Support Enforcement, which is an agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to file an application for child support with the required paperwork.

Among the documents that a person might be required to present to the Office of Child Support Enforcement are the following:

  • A valid photo ID, such as a driver’s license or current (not expired) passport;
  • Proof of a person’s address, such as a recent rent receipt, mortgage statement, or utility bill;
  • Birth certificate(s) for the children for whom the person seeks child support;
  • Contact information or any information a person has regarding their current address or place of employment for the other parent of their child or children;
  • Proof of the paternity of the parent of the child or children from whom support is sought, such as an affidavit or the results of a DNA test;
  • Social Security cards for themselves and each of the children for whom support is sought;
  • Proof of income, such as recent pay stubs and/or W-2 forms;
  • Evidence of child support payments that were made in the recent past or statements of unpaid child support that is owed;
  • Existing child support orders for each of the children, including any Uniform Support Petition documentation and/or a Notice of Determination of Controlling Order, if they are available;
  • A divorce decree, if the person married and then divorced the other parent of the children for whom the person seeks support;
  • Additional financial documentation, including evidence of real estate or personal property that the person owns

This list is not necessarily complete. Other information might be sought also.

How Is Child Support Collected?

The child support process, of course, begins with the determination that a non-custodial parent is the parent of a child or children for whom support is sought. If the parents are in the process of getting divorced, parentage is assumed by the law and cannot be contested.

If the parents have never been married, then the custodial parent who seeks child support must first establish the paternity of the child. Once that is done, the parent can apply for child support. Once they have established a right to collect child support, they usually collect it from the paying parent in one of three ways, i.e., direct deposits into the custodial parent’s bank account, through an electronic payment card that is similar to a debit card; or through a bank check.

In some cases, the parent may not make payments as required and in that case, they may have their wages garnished, which means that their employer deducts an amount from each paycheck and sends it to a child welfare agency, which then transfers the support to the custodial parent.

Can the Amount of Child Support Be Modified?

The custodial parent can seek change in the amount of child support if the financial situation of either parent changes significantly. The parents need to file a petition for child support modification with the court. This will allow them to present evidence regarding the requested adjustments or modifications.

Generally speaking, there needs to be a justification as to why the monthly support amount should be changed. For instance, it may be necessary to show that the child is incurring additional expenses at school and needs more money for academic support.

If a Parent Loses Their Job or Gets a New Job, Is Child Support Automatically Changed?

Child support never changes automatically. If the circumstances of the parents or the children change in a way that might affect child support, the affected parent needs to seek a change in the order that requires payment of child support.

Again, if the child support order was made by a court as part of a divorce proceeding, the parent who seeks a change in child support would need to return to the court that issued the order. They would file a petition for modification of child support. Local courts may require the use of certain forms, e.g. a post-judgment modification of support or custody form. If a person’s income fluctuates significantly from year-to-year, they may check with their local family law court to see if the court has documents for explaining this situation to the court.

Does Child Support End Automatically When the Child Turns 18?

Usually a child is considered an adult when they reach the age of 18 and is no longer entitled to support from either parent. In a child support order, a judge may even state that it expires when the child reaches the age of 18. Or, if a child passes away, child support payments would end. Or, if a child successfully seeks emancipation before turning 18, then the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation would end.

However, child support may continue if it is shown that the child has a mental or physical issue that makes them dependent on parental support continuing into adulthood.

What Is “Past Due Support”?

Past due support refers to child support payments that have been missed or skipped by the parent who is legally obligated to make them. Over time, a debt for unpaid child support may accumulate, but the parent who has been ordered to pay it is still legally obligated to do so.

Some non-custodial parents may accumulate large amounts in “past due support” if they continually miss payments. This can cause them to face consequences, such as having their paychecks garnished. A debt for unpaid child support cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

What If the Other Parent Refuses to Pay Child Support?

This type of conduct should be reported immediately to the court. Failure to pay child support can result in various legal consequences, including an order finding the non-paying parent to be in contempt of court, or even criminal charges in serious cases. The paying parent will still owe the past due amounts as long as there is a valid support order on file with the court. In very serious cases, the non-paying parent’s property and assets may be affected by outstanding child support debt, and their credit may be affected.

The custodial parent can often request services from local district attorney’s offices or other government agencies that are charged with collecting child support. Or, the person may consult an attorney about collecting unpaid child support.

There are government agencies in every state that are charged with collecting child support for you. A government agency does not charge a fee, so it is a good option for a person who is not in a position to pay attorney’s fees.
Reportedly, however, government agencies are overwhelmed with cases, so it may take some time to get the support.

There are private collection agencies that will pursue unpaid child support, but they take a percentage of the money they collect.

The Other Parent Is Using Child Support for Personal Purchases – What Should I Do?

Generally speaking, courts do not control how a parent who receives child support spends the money they receive. There is no accountability system. However, the state of Delaware has instituted a system that works differently than most state child support systems. In Delaware the state distributes child support through a child support card, which is similar to a food stamp or an EBT card. The goal is to keep the parent who receives the support from misusing funds that are supposed to go to the costs of providing children with food, clothing, education and medical care.

The child support payment cards do not allow the parent to purchase non-essential items unrelated to raising a child, such as alcohol, cigarettes or even car payments. However, the Delaware card system has not been adopted by all states or even most states.

Is It Necessary to Hire a Lawyer for Child Support Issues?

Generally speaking, child support issues can be complicated and require much interaction between the parents and the court. It is in your best interests to hire a child support lawyer if you need assistance with child support issues.

You can direct your child support questions to your attorney, who can then give you the information you need. Also, your attorney can represent you in negotiations with the other parent of your child or children, thus sparing you the experience, which can be unpleasant in some cases. Of course, a lawyer can also prepare documents for court proceedings and represent a person in court during the hearings and settlement meetings.