Do I Need a Lawyer for Child Support?

The law does not require you to hire a lawyer to handle your child support case. But in many situations, it can be a good idea. Sometimes the child support services agency can assist you with all the child support issues — especially child support enforcement.

In some cases, you may need to hire a private attorney. This is especially true if you are in the midst of a divorce or child custody dispute and you and your spouse disagree on the terms of custody or support. For instance, you might differ on alimony (or spousal support) terms or parenting time for the non-custodial parent.

When there are disagreements between couples, a judge will often need to intervene and rule on those issues. Having a lawyer help you may be a good option to ensure you get the best outcome.

What Does a Child Support Lawyer Do?

A family law attorney will help you with your case by assisting you with various child support issues, such as:

  • Explaining the legal issues and state law; your attorney will also tell you what to expect at every stage
  • Evaluating your case and giving you proper legal advice on how you should proceed
  • Calculating the anticipated child support payments
  • Representing you at the court hearing to protect your rights
  • Negotiating on your behalf

Why Do I Need a Child Support Attorney?

Hiring a local attorney may seem like an unnecessary expense. But the cost is usually worth it when it comes to child support cases. It will save you a considerable amount of time and effort, especially if the case is already in court.

Here are some reasons why you would want to hire a child support attorney:

  • If you have a complicated case, a lawyer may be necessary: If your ex, for instance, does not agree with the amount of child support, the custody arrangement, or the terms of a divorce, then a lawyer would be best suited to convince the judge to rule your way.
  • The other parent may have a lawyer: If your ex has a lawyer, they have someone working with them who understands child support laws, courts, and the process. They might even know the judges and their individual preferences. You don't want to put yourself in a position where you are struggling to learn the process while your ex's attorney provides all the right information to support their side of the case.
  • A lawyer will help calculate the amount of child support: A lawyer knows exactly what information the judge uses to calculate child support. This is not just the gross income and the number of children but also complex formulas that lawyers understand.
  • A lawyer will help you gather the right documentation: Having a lawyer on your side will help you provide accurate information. You can ensure the child support order is the right amount needed to care for your child properly.
  • A lawyer may also help with your child custody case: Issues of child custody, in many cases, come hand-in-hand with child support cases. As your custody arrangements will directly affect your relationship with your children, it may be the best option to hire a lawyer.
  • Child support modification is easier with a lawyer: If you want to modify an existing child support order, you must show a substantial change in circumstances. An attorney can give you an overview of what a "substantial change" constitutes. This could be if the parents' income changes, if the child's needs change, or if the time that the parent has changes. The attorney would give you a more in-depth explanation of the “substantial change" in circumstances that you can use to request a change in the amount of support. They could also help you provide the right documentation to help the judge understand your modification request.

Issues to Consider for Your Child Support Case

You should consider the following before you decide to hire a lawyer:

  • Has the paternity of the father been proven?
  • Is there a custody case pending before the court?
  • Can you and your previous partner agree on the child support terms?
  • After the court order, do you have a way to enforce child support?
  • Will the child support obligations end soon? Is your child almost 18 or about to graduate high school?
  • Will the child support affect your finances? Your tax return?
  • What is the amount of child support you expect to get?

How Much Does a Child Support Attorney Cost?

A child support attorney may charge you a flat fee, or they may charge you on an hourly basis. Some attorneys may also ask for a retainer fee for their services.

The amount you must pay will depend on the attorney's experience and how complicated your case is. Note that there are also additional fees you must pay. These fees are payments associated with your case, including court fees.

More Information About Child Support

The following contains more information about child support:

What Is Child Support?

Child support is simply the money one parent pays the custodial parent (the parent who has physical custody of the child) for the child's care. The judge sets the child support payment amount at the child support hearing. The co-parents can also agree to the amount in a custody agreement. This money is usually paid monthly.

Child support covers the basic needs of the child, including:

  • Child care
  • Health insurance and medical care
  • Education expenses
  • Extracurricular activities

Once a court orders child support, a parent may apply for a modification of child support if situations change, such as when a parent loses a job.

Who Pays Child Support?

Both parents are required to contribute to child support. If the paternity of the father is not established, then the court may order a paternity test. In most cases, the parent who does not have physical custody will end up paying child support.

The child support amount a co-parent must pay is calculated using the child support guidelines. The guidelines look at different factors, including the financial status of the parents and the financial needs of the child. FindLaw's child support page has ample resources on how to calculate child support.

Additional Resources

Speak to an Attorney About Your Child Support Case

Disputes regarding child support can be very stressful and complex. Speaking to a child support attorney may help you understand the laws regarding child support in your state and provide you with the best solution.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

Get tailored advice about paying or receiving child support. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning