Paying Child Support: Checklist

All parents have a legal responsibility to financially provide for their children. The child support you pay helps keep your children healthy, fed, and well cared for. Failure to make your child support payments can have devastating consequences. Parents who fail to pay support to their child's custodial parent risk additional wage garnishment and other sanctions.

Use the following "Paying Child Support Checklist" as a guide to help you stay up to date with your child support payments.

Paying Child Support: Checklist

1. Gather financial information: Every state uses child support guidelines. The guidelines shape your child support order. The family court judge must use the guidelines when they decide on the child support amount. 

You can use an online child support calculator. The calculator gives you an estimated amount of child support that you will have to pay. It uses the same information that judges use in their worksheets. 

Remember that the guidelines calculator is just an idea of what you you will pay. The judge may have a different amount. Before you use it, you have to gather the needed information. Most of it is financial information, such as:

  • Both parents' income (gross income and net disposable income)
  • The number of children is important. Parenting time information (the % of time that each parent spends with each child. Include overnights.)
  • Pay stubs that can show your monthly and annual income
  • Health insurance premium information
  • Income tax W-2, 1099, and tax returns (includes taxes for Social Security and Medicare)

2. Decide on the terms: Before a court can enforce your obligation to support your children, there must be a valid order in place. You and your co-parent may decide when and how much child support you need to pay by creating an agreement that is approved by the court. 

If you are unable to negotiate with your co-parent, a judge will issue a court order after reviewing your financial information and that of your co-parent. States have specific rules that you or the court must follow when determining the amount of child support.

3. Keep contact information in a safe place: You may want to change your child support for some reason. You will need to give notice. Make sure you have the contact information for the following:

  • Your co-parent
  • Your family law attorney
  • Your co-parent's attorney
  • The state or local Office of Child Support Services responsible for handling child support payments

4. Set up child support withholdings: Most states provide for it. Under a child support withholding schedule, the state administration responsible for collecting and disbursing child support payments will automatically deduct child support out of your paychecks. This ensures that you'll never forget to make a payment and that you make payments on time. You don't want to be in arrears. 

If your state doesn't have support withholding or you are self-employed, you may be able to set up an automatic payment schedule with your bank. Just remember to always keep enough money in your account to cover the payments.

If you fail to stay current with your child support payments, your co-parent can ask the state child support agency or court to enforce the order. These support enforcement actions may impact your ability to travel and work and could result in fines or jail time.

5. Keep your information up to date: Be sure your co-parent, the attorneys involved, and the child support administration have your most current contact information. You and your co-parent should also notify one another, your attorneys, and the state administration if there has been a substantial change in circumstances that may affect a child support calculation, particularly any new child custody arrangements. For example, if you change to split custody.

5. Modify your child support: Most states provide a modification process so your payments can change to reflect your current financial status. If you are struggling to meet your child support obligations because you lost your job or have to support more children, you may be able to modify your payments to make things easier. It's important to act quickly to modify your child support order because you are responsible for any unpaid amounts, which generally cannot be reduced after the fact or wiped out through bankruptcy.

Get Legal Help With Your Questions About Paying Child Support

When it comes to child support, especially when a court order is in place, it's important to ensure that both parents are in compliance. Whatever the situation, you'll want to make sure that you're paying the correct amount of child support. The paying child support checklist is a great place to start. But every child support case is different. It's best to reach out to a well-qualified child support attorney in your area who can not only help in getting a child support order but also review prior orders.

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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.

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