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What is child support, and how is child support determined?
Child support is a periodic payment made to a custodial parent from a non-custodial parent to help pay for a child’s living expenses, i.e. food, clothes, etc., and any other related debts. When one parent is awarded sole custody, as in the event of a divorce, the non-custodial parent is required to fulfill his or her child support obligation by making set payments, whereas the custodial parent meets his or her support obligation through the custody itself. When parents are awarded joint custody however, the support obligation is shared and may be based on several factors, including the amount of time each parent has custody and each parent’s income.
What factors are used to calculate child support payments?
The factors used to calculate child support payments are set by law. In general, the law applies each parent’s income, including occupational wages, assets such as stocks and bonds, welfare benefits, etc., the custodial parent’s living expenses and the standard of living of the child before divorce, the specific needs of the child; i.e. health insurance, educational needs, and applicable day care expenses, and the non-custodial parent's ability to pay, i.e. if the parent at the time of ruling is incarcerated, hospitalized, etc. However, under such circumstances as incarceration, past-due child support would continue to accumulate (overdue payments are called arrearages or arrears), and the non-custodial parent would be responsible for paying past-due payments when released, either immediately or in installments, as mandated by a court of law.
Each state will vary on how child support is calculated but each state follows one of four models:
a) Flat Percentage – The child support payment is a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income, and does not change.
b) Income Shares - The total child support amount equals the amount the parents would have spent on the children if the parents and children were living together. Each parent contributes his/her proportionate share of the total child support amount. (The majority of states follow this model.)
c) Varying Percentage – The child support payment is a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income. It acts to create a flat amount because the amount of child support does not increase if the non-custodial parent’s income increases.
d) Melson Formula – The child support payment is calculated based on a variety of factors (the “Melson Factors”), including both parents’ incomes and the needs of the child.
Can the amount of the payment change over time?
Once ordered, the child support payment cannot change except by a change in the court order. A party may ask for a modification of their child support order for reasons such as an increase in either parent's earnings--this can include additional income from remarriage, a decrease in income due to a job change, a change in custody--in which the child support order may be reversed, a change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent, or the specific needs of a child or either parent change due to a medical disability, etc.
How long must a parent provide child support?
Most states require parents to pay child support until the child has reached the age of majority in the state, usually 18, they become emancipated, are adopted by other parents, are married or enlist in the military. Some states require support payments to continue after the age of 18 for college education.
Is a father who never married the mother still required to pay child support?
Yes. Child support is not dependent upon the marital status of the parents, it is a financial obligation based on a person’s status as a parent. Once a child is born both parents are under the legal obligation to financially support their child. Some states also require future fathers to pay for prenatal care.
Additionally, a man who never marries a child’s mother, but welcomes the child into his home and supports the child as his own may gain a ‘presumed’ father status even if he is not in fact the biological father. This means he may be required to pay child support if his relationship with the mother ends. The courts have adopted this rule because the court looks at the best interests of the child, not the parents.
What is a Putative Father?
A Putative Father is a man who may be a child’s father but is not married to the child’s mother or has not established his paternity of the child through an affidavit or court order. Until a father has established his paternity he does not have any parental rights over the child.
Some states have a Putative Father Registry which is a database a number of states have created to allow a man who thinks he may be a child’s father to register. Registration may be done either before or after the birth, though most require by 30 days after the birth, and allows the father to receive notice if the child is put up for adoption. At the adoption hearing the putative father will have the right to appear if he has established paternity.
What if the father is not allowed to see the child?
Every parent has a financial obligation to support their children and child support should never be confused with custodial or visitation rights. There is no state which permits a parent to withhold child support because of disputes over custody or visitation.
If a non-custodial parent believes their rightful child visitations are being disrupted, it is recommended to contact an attorney to file a claim for visitation of custody. A parent should not stop making child support payments as a form of retaliation.
What happens to a father who refuses to pay court ordered child support?
If a parent does not voluntarily pay their required child support amount the court may impose sanctions such as the garnishment of the parent’s wages, fines, suspension of state issued licenses, or ordering the offending parent to jail. The “Bradley” Amendment allows the IRS to garnish a delinquent parent’s tax refund and send the money to the custodial parent. The law also requires states to enforce another state’s child support order through punitive measures when the parents live in different states and the delinquent child support amount goes over a certain amount.
What are a father´s rights if he believes his child support order is unfair?
A parent may always go back to the court to request a medication of an existing support order if they have changed circumstances such as another child or a loss in income. If you believe the initial order is unfair you have the right to appeal. An experienced child support lawyer can request a child support modification order to the court, based upon the legal applicability of specific circumstances that may have been disregarded or misrepresented in the initial court ruling.
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