Child Support Reform: What You Need to Know
Over the years, the way child support is determined has changed. In the past, a father was typically assumed to be the breadwinner and thus responsible for much of a child's support. Today, however, a more egalitarian approach is used. As a result, non-custodial parents aren't automatically prevented from receiving support.
Read on to learn more about child support reform and its impact on the legal obligations of parents.
Determining Child Support
Today, child support is typically determined using the income of both parents. The goal is to place the child in the position he or she would've been had the parents stayed together. In general, each parent is legally obligated to contribute to the financial support of a child.
The federal government mandates child support guidelines for all states. However, guidelines differ from state to state. The percentage of the combined income that each parent contributes helps determine the amount a parent is obligated to pay in support. Some states use a formula based on gross income and others use a formula based on net income.
In determining the amount of child support, many state guidelines take into account the amount of time that a child spends with each parent. The more time that a child spends with a non-custodial parent, the greater the expenses that parent incurs to support the child. In situations where there's shared custody or extensive visitation, the amount of child support may be less than in situations where there is sole custody and little visitation.
It's possible for support to be higher or lower than the amount determined by the guidelines. However, extenuating circumstances may have to be shown in order to adjust the amount.
Non-Custodial Parent May Be Entitled to Receive Child Support
In many cases, the custodial parent, or the parent with whom the child primarily resides, is entitled to child support from the non-custodial parent. However, a custodial parent isn't always entitled to this support. Some states have statutes that give courts discretion to order either or both parents to pay an amount reasonable and necessary for the support of the child.
For example, the Illinois Supreme Court was asked whether a custodial parent should pay child support to a non-custodial parent. The court declared that Illinois law doesn't support the view that custodial parents are exempt from having to pay child support.
A similar conclusion was reached in Indiana. While the Indiana Supreme Court determined that Indiana's guidelines don't authorize the payment of child support from a custodial to a non-custodial parent, it declared that if the state's guidelines produced an unjust result, a court could order a custodial parent to pay child support to a non-custodial parent, in this case from a custodial mother to a non-custodial father.
In another similar case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that it's incorrect for a court to fail to consider whether deviating from the state's guidelines is appropriate, even in cases where the result would be to order child support for a parent who isn't the primary custodial parent.
The courts in these cases noted that, under certain custody arrangements, non-custodial parents may have visitation schedules that rival those of the custodial parents and at a similar cost. This means that when a child spends an almost equal number of days with each parent, each parent is providing about the same care for the child and accrues about the same costs. In such situations, the non-custodial parent could be ordered to pay child support without taking into account that parent's income and resources compared to those of the custodial parent.
These cases mean that a non-custodial parent with less resources shouldn't be prevented from receiving support simply because of his or her status as "non-custodial." Factors used to determine whether to deviate from the amount of support under the guidelines can include:
- Unusual needs and obligations
- Other support obligations of the parties
- Other income in the household
- Assets of the parties
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance
- Standard of living of the parties and their children
- Other factors, including the best interests of the child or children
Have Child Support Reform Questions; Get Answers with Legal Help
Understanding your state's child support guidelines and how they apply to your parenting situation can be challenging. If you need assistance in understanding the guidelines or in addressing your situation as a custodial or non-custodial parent, you should consider speaking with a qualified child support attorney. An attorney can not only explain the process to you, but can also advocate on your behalf and help you obtain a more equitable child support outcome.