Child Support Overview
Child support is a stressful and contentious topic for many parents. You may disagree with how your child's other parent spends child support. You want to know if they are doing anything illegal.
Maybe you feel a change of your current support order is necessary due to a change in your financial situation but don't know where to start. Or you wonder how a change in child custody or parenting time impacts the order.
You need clarification whether you've recently separated and need money to support your child or you're trying to enforce a child support order against a parent who won't pay. You've come to the right place for child support basics.
FindLaw's Child Support section has in-depth information on dozens of child support-related issues. This section provides information on:
- How to get child support and make child support payments
- How to modify child support
- How courts calculate and enforce child support
- Consequences of not paying child support
There are links to state child support laws, guidelines, and helpful tips on hiring a lawyer to help you with your child support case.
Child Support Duration
Every parent must financially support their minor children. This is in the form of child support when parents are not together. Child support pays for mortgage payments or rent, food, clothes, educational expenses, and childcare expenses. Payments also include medical support for medical expenses and health insurance.
Some child support orders include provisions for reimbursement of health care costs, such as health insurance premiums. The child support payments don't go directly to the child. Instead, they help to support the needs of the child.
The duty to provide financial support ends when a child turns 18 in most cases. Or you can stop paying if the child is emancipated or self-supporting. A court decree may extend a child support order if a child is older than 18 but remains a full-time high school student.
Getting Child Support
If you haven't applied for child support yet, there are important first steps to take. You could make a child support agreement with your co-parent outside court, such as through mediation or informal negotiations. You could also obtain a child support order from a court. Either way, you need to do the following:
- Know or find the location of your co-parent
- Establish paternity (parentage) if necessary
- Determine the appropriate amount for child support using your state's guidelines
If you need help with some of these tasks, you may be able to get it from your child support services agency. They are an excellent resource for tracking down parents with overdue child support. But you can sometimes use them in these early stages before you have a child support order. Under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, states created programs to locate non-custodial parents and to establish paternity.
States have resources to find your co-parent if you don't know where they are. Provide the agency with as much information (name, last known address, Social Security number) as you have about the other parent. Your local child support enforcement office is also a good source for low-income parents who receive public assistance, like:
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Social Security (SSI)
Paying Child Support
Custody arrangements impact child support. If you have a child who lives primarily at another parent's home, you will most likely owe that person child support. Even if you don't get along with your child's other parent, these child support payments help raise your child.
Ignoring a child support order can lead to severe consequences, so knowing how much to pay and how to submit it to the other parent is essential. You do not pay the other parent directly. Child support is taken through income withholding via employers in many cases. The court will issue an order for child support with an amount of child support that fulfills the child's needs. If your employer does not begin income withholding or you are self-employed, contact the local child support agency and ensure you know when and how to make payments.
Child Support Calculations
Each state has child support guidelines that help judges set the amount of child support. The state law guidelines consider custody arrangements and how much time the parent spends with the children. Parenting time also includes the time an obligor parent has overnights with their children.
The parents' income is probably the most important factor for calculating child support. The court must follow the guidelines when it issues child support orders, using the “best interests of the child" standard.
States provide an online child support calculator. You plug in information to get an estimate of the child support obligation. Before using this tool, gather information like your pay stubs, tax returns, birth certificates, and other legal documents. You need to input important details, including the following:
- Each parent's income (gross income, net income)
- Income includes self-employment income, salary, wages, Social Security benefits, worker's compensation, unemployment, and alimony and spousal support
- Number of children subject to the order
- Health insurance premium costs (if applicable)
Modifying Child Support
Over time, people's financial situations often change, sometimes for the better, but unfortunately, not always. If you can't afford the child support you're ordered or agreed to pay, it may be time for a modification.
Either parent can ask the court for the change. Suppose your income has changed. You must inform the court that the financial information you swore to in your child support affidavit is different. You must update the income worksheets you submitted.
Child Support Enforcement
When a parent tries to collect past due child support, they can get help from their local office of child support enforcement agency. The agencies have different names in different states. It may be under the “Department of Health and Human Services" or “Division of Child Support Enforcement."
Trying to avoid child support by being paid under the table can hurt you in the long run. Your child support office may have investigators on staff who can identify your income sources.
What happens if you don't pay your court-ordered child support?
Depending on where you live, the government has a number of tools at its disposal for enforcing child support orders, including the following:
- Contempt of court
- Denying passports
- Garnishing your wages
- Intercepting your income tax refund
- Placing liens on your property
- Revoking your driver's license
- Suspending your occupational/professional license
- Referring your case for criminal non-support charges
Hiring a Child Support Attorney
Obtaining and modifying child support typically aren't easy tasks. Hiring an experienced family law attorney can relieve some of the stress of getting, modifying, or enforcing a child support order.
Learn About Child Support Overview
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