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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 responsible for much of a child's support. Today, courts are examining the custody arrangement more closely and basing support orders on the economic reality of what the custody arrangement actually means to the parties.

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

Child support is typically determined using the income of both parents. The goal is to place the child in the financial position they would've been in 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. 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 is shared custody or extensive visitation, the child may spend almost the same amount of time with the non-custodial parent as the child spends with the custodial parent. In such a case, the amount of child support may be less than in situations where there is sole custody and little visitation. Differences in the parents' relative incomes also affect the amount of support ordered.

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, the custodial parent isn't always the recipient and the non-custodial parent isn't always the payor of child 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.

Examples of Non-Custodial Mother Receiving Child Support

For example, there was a case where the father was designated as the custodial parent but there was not much difference in the amount of time two children spent with their mother and father. The father had an income of $150,000 a year but the mother earned less than $10,000. The Illinois Supreme Court was asked whether the fact that the father was the custodial parent meant that he could not be ordered to pay child support to the mother, who was designated as the 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.

Examples of Non-Custodial Father Receiving Child Support

A similar conclusion was reached in an Indiana case where the mother was the primary custodian and had an annual income of about double the father's income. Although the father was the non-custodial parent, he had the children with him for more than 40% of the year. 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 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 similar costs. In such situations, the non-custodial parent should not be ordered to pay child support without taking into account that parent's income and resources compared to those of the custodial parent.

A non-custodial parent with fewer resources should not be prevented from receiving support simply because of their 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 explain the process to you, advocate on your behalf, and help you obtain a more equitable child support outcome.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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