Child Support in a Divorce
Child support is the periodic payment from a non-custodial parent to a custodial parent, which helps compensate for a child’s living expenses. During the divorce proceedings, the court may award primary or sole custody of a child to one parent. The court then orders the other parent to fulfill child support obligations by setting payment amounts. If the parents are awarded joint custody of the child, the child support obligation is shared by both parents and is based on a percentage of each parent’s income and the total amount of time each parent spends with the child.
Following the divorce or separation (or the granting of custody to one of the unmarried parents of a child), the court may order that the non-custodial parent pay a portion of his or her income to support the child. Less commonly, both parents may be required to pay child support to a third party that cares for their child. The orders for child support are issued by the family court, which bases the amount of support on the state guidelines governing child support. The amount is usually based on the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children. Other relevant matters, such as the custodial parent’s income and the specific needs of children, are also considered. Deviation from these guidelines is possible, though simply a high income of the custodial parent is not sufficient reason because, by law, the children have the right to benefit from the incomes of both parents. A change in circumstances can result in an increase or decrease in the amount paid.
Amount of Child Support
Child support payment amounts are calculated based on several factors. The court considers the current income of each parent, including their occupational wages, assets like stocks and bonds, welfare benefits, and more. Additionally, the court will look at the custodial parent and child’s standard of living before the divorce, which may include factors such as educational expenses, daycare expenses, health insurance, etc.
The court has the right to increase or decrease child support payments when it is in the child’s best interest. Child support payments can be modified based on the following considerations including, but not limited to:
- Income increase or decrease of either parent
- Change in custody rights
- Extraordinary medical, psychological, education, or dental expenses
- Special needs of the child
- Age of the child
The duration of child support obligations is dependent upon the varying laws of each state. In most states, child support is typically paid throughout the child’s minority, which is 18 years of age, though some states require child support to be paid until the child is 21 years old. However, child support payments can be terminated if the child gets married, enters the military, is lawfully adopted by another party, or becomes legally emancipated or self-supporting.
Because many marriages end in divorce and children are born out of wedlock, the governmental regulation of child support is an important issue. The matter used to be left solely in the hands of the parents; however, state child support enforcement agencies are now taking an important role in pursuing payments from non-custodial parents. The agency and the court usually work together, instating an order by which the child support amount is automatically deducted from the non-custodial parent’s paycheck. Delinquent payments may result in the agency implementing other collection mechanisms, such as withholding support amounts from tax refunds or seizing real estate or personal property.
In cases involving unmarried mothers seeking child support, the first step is usually to legally establish the father’s “paternity” of the child. This can be done voluntarily or the mother may bring a lawsuit to establish paternity. This is done by using genetic (DNA) testing. The court will order the alleged father to submit to the testing if he refuses to agree to do so of his own volition. After paternity is established, the court issues a child support order like that in a divorce situation.
If the non-custodial parent relocates to a different state, the custodial parent will likely need to rely on the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act to ensure child support payments are made. This Act provides how the courts of another state can enforce a support order issued in one state.
If you are involved in a situation where you may need to pursue child support, it is recommended that you hire an experienced family lawyer who can effectively pursue your rights.
Responsibilities & Rights
Because child support is a court order, it is against the law for the payor to not make obligatory payments. Under the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, federal laws allow courts to intercept tax refunds, seize property, or suspend business licenses to enforce child support orders. If these attempts don’t work, the payor may be held in contempt of court and face jail time.
It is important to know that child support laws vary from state to state and can be complex. To best protect your legal interests, it is important to seek the assistance of a qualified divorce attorney who can protect the rights of you and your child. Please contact us today to learn more about your legal options or to speak to an experienced divorce lawyer free of charge.