Child support is a term discussed in family law that refers to the periodic payments made from one parent to the other parent, in order to help them provide financially for their shared child. Generally, these payments are disbursed about once per month by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent

Child support arrangements typically arise in situations where the child’s parents are divorced. However, a court may also order child support payments in cases where the noncustodial parent has no contact with the child. 

Child support payments are necessary because raising a child is expensive. The purpose of child support is to help provide for the costs associated with rearing a child. The payments are meant to benefit the child, however, not the parents. This is due to the fact that a parent has a legal responsibility to support their own biological child.

How are Child Support Payments Calculated?

The court (usually, a family law court) will determine the amount required for the child support payments. This is done by taking into account the unique circumstances of each individual case, as well as the needs of a particular child. 

The following are some of the main factors that courts will look at when determining the amount necessary for child support payments:

  • The needs of the child, including costs associated with education, day care, health care, and health insurance;
  • Any special needs the child may have, such as those accompanying a disability (e.g., paying for a medical care provider, medical equipment, etc.);
  • The income and needs of the custodial parent;
  • The number of children that will require support; 
  • The noncustodial parent’s income and their ability to make payments; 
  • Whether there are children from another family that the noncustodial parent is already supporting; and
  • The child’s standard of living prior to the divorce.  

Additionally, each state has a specific set of guidelines that courts use to calculate child support payments.

The court will also require each parent to complete a financial statement that provides their monthly income and expenses. The court will then use a standardized formula to calculate the exact amount needed for child support payments. The formula is usually based on these financial statements and the amount of time that each parent spends with the child.

Sometimes the court will also consider mandatory deductions, which may include:

  • Taxes;
  • Social security; 
  • Medical care payments; 
  • Mandatory union dues; 
  • Professional licensing fees; and 
  • A variety of different items that the noncustodial parent may be responsible for, such as other child support payments.

Finally, once the basic child support expenses have been calculated, then additional costs may be factored into the child support order. These are known as “child support add-ons.” 

Child support add-ons incorporate calculations for the child’s additional needs. Some examples of potential add-ons might include:

  • Extra costs for medical care expenses relating to any of the child’s special needs or conditions;
  • Additional costs for the child to attend a special school or program, such as a gifted and talented school or program; 
  • Expenses related to moving or relocating; and 
  • Other isolated events. 

It is important to note that the custodial (nonpaying) parent cannot simply request child support add-ons to bolster the amount that they receive. A custodial parent must have good reasons for requesting add-ons. Also, the court can only order the add-on expenses if it can be proven that they are in the child’s best interests.

What Types of Expenses Does Child Support Cover?

It is very difficult to keep track of how the receiving parent (custodial) spends the child support payments made by the other parent. Most federal and state laws provide that child support payments should be used for the child’s best interests. These laws, however, do not specifically state the things that are considered to be a valid use of child support payments.

Instead, the factors supplied by the court and contained in the child support order can provide better guidelines for what is considered a valid use of the payments. Some examples include:

  • The child’s basic needs, such as food, clothes, and shelter;
  • Medical care expenses;
  • Health care coverage, e.g., insurance premiums and deductibles;
  • Educational expenses like school tuition, uniform costs, school supplies, etc.; and 
  • Recreational costs (within reason). 

Once the payments have been made, it is the custodial parent’s responsibility to ensure that those funds are actually used for the child and their calculated needs. They also need to check that those payments are not being used for any unrelated expenses.

What Types of Expenses Does Child Support Not Cover?

As previously mentioned, child support payments are only meant to benefit and support the child. These payments are not supposed to make up for spousal support, and they are not supposed to be used as personal income for the custodial parent.

Thus, some invalid uses for child support payments may include: 

  • Personal leisure expenses, such as purchasing luxury items or taking vacations; 
  • Illegal activities, e.g., supporting gambling habits or other addictions; 
  • Using the payments as living expenses instead of maintaining a job; and
  • Anything not directly related to the benefit of the child.

If it seems as if the child support payments are being used inappropriately, then a court may intervene on behalf of the child and investigate the matter. In such circumstances, child support payments can be changed or modified.

The modification process begins by filing a motion for modification with the court. The party who is filing the motion must then present the court with a compelling reason as to why the child support order needs to be modified. They must supply actual proof that the modification is necessary. 

How are Child Support Payments Enforced?

In general, there are two ways to enforce a child support order. The first is by filing a petition with the court. The court will attempt to enforce the order and if the other parent does not comply, then they can be brought into court and sued for back payments. 

The second way to enforce a child support order is by contacting a child support enforcement agency. These agencies are specifically created to handle issues involving child support payments. They do this by providing the following services:

  • Reviewing child support payment histories to see whether any payments are due or overdue;
  • Identifying and locating the parent responsible for the payments;
  • Using different techniques to ensure the missing amounts are collected; and 
  • Obtaining court orders for child support payments (if one does not exist already).  

What Happens If a Child Support Order is Violated?

In the event that a child support order is violated, a court or child support enforcement agency may employ drastic measures. Some of these measures might include:

  • Obtaining an order for wage garnishment (i.e., when a specific amount of money is withheld from a person’s paycheck and that amount is then sent to the party owed); 
  • Seizing tax refunds;
  • Reporting the amount owed as a debt to credit agencies; 
  • Revoking driver’s licenses and passports; and
  • Placing liens on property.

Most courts give high priority to child support payments. Thus, courts may also hold the indebted parent in contempt of court. This will require that parent to pay additional attorney’s fees and court costs, acting as an additional punishment.

Finally, it is also good to know that each state assigns their own penalties and consequences for individuals who violate child support orders.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Child Support Matters?

If you have any questions or concerns relating to a child support order, child support payments, or appropriate usages of child support payments, you should strongly consider contacting a local child support attorney.

An experienced family law attorney will be able to educate you about your state’s specific child support laws and if necessary, represent you in court.

Being involved in a child support dispute can be very frustrating and upsetting. By hiring an attorney, they may be able to reduce some of the stress that you might be feeling. They can also help to ensure that both you and your child’s rights are being properly protected.