Child Support Law

Child support is a payment made by a non-custodial parent to help the custodial parent with the costs of raising a child. A family law court determines the support amount, usually after a divorce or legal separation agreement. Child support laws vary from state to state. This includes the child support guidelines, child support enforcement, and how to modify payments.

Child support is ordered by the court, and you need to modify the order to make any changes. Talk to a family law attorney lawyer for legal advice about your rights as a parent.

What Is Child Support Used For?

Child support covers the daily needs of a child. These include necessities like:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Daycare

In some cases, the amount of support ordered might result in the improvement of the non-paying parent’s household standard of living because they have to devote less of their income to raising a child.

How Is Child Support Calculated?

As is the case with physical custody and visitation, courts focus their child support decisions on what is in the best interests of the child. Most states have established child support guidelines for calculating the amount of support awarded. In many jurisdictions, the amount takes into consideration each parent’s income.

Other state laws base it on the non-custodial parent’s income. However, this consideration is not limited to parents’ wages. To set the amount of child support, a family court will also consider other financial assets, such as dividends and interest. Other factors include:

  • Social Security income
  • Workers’ compensation benefits
  • Military veterans’ benefits
  • Retirement plan income
  • Gifts and prizes
  • Lottery winnings
  • Income from self-employment

Child support will also depend on the specific minor child’s needs. This includes their childcare expenses, extraordinary educational expenses, medical expenses, and health insurance. Your state may have an online child support calculator to estimate your child support payments.

How Do I Modify a Child Support Order?

A child support order can be modified at a later date if circumstances change. Both the custodial and non-custodial parent can request a modification of a child support order. These are often based on a change in financial circumstances, such as a job loss or a medical emergency.

To get a modification, you must request it from the same court that granted the original court order. Your support obligations won’t change until the order is modified. That means if you lose your job, you are still responsible for the full payments until the court modifies the order.

How Is Child Support Enforced?

Once a court issues an order for child support, it can be legally enforced. One way is to get assistance from the local child support enforcement agency. A child support agency can help to enforce the order through wage garnishment. This means the amount of support comes directly out of the non-custodial parent’s paychecks.

A court or the state child support enforcement agency can issue an order of income withholding for wage garnishment. The state can use other collection methods as well, such as seizing federal or state income tax refunds, garnishing bank accounts, and suspending driver’s licenses.

In some child support cases, a custodial parent can ask the original court to issue a civil contempt citation against the non-custodial parent. This can lead to home detention, probation, or even time jail.

Child support orders are enforceable even if the non-custodial parent relocates to another state. Every state has adopted some version of the Uniform Interstate Support Enforcement Act. This makes cooperation among child support enforcement agencies possible.

When Do You Stop Paying Child Support?

Child support obligations generally continue until the child reaches the age of majority. In most states, this happens when the child turns 18. However, the court may order child support payments until another date beyond a child’s 18th birthday. In many cases, a parent may have to continue financial support through age 21 if the child is attending college.

Some states require child support payments past the age of majority if a child is mentally or physically disabled.

In all cases, you do not stop because you think it is the right time. You can only stop payments when given permission by the court.

If you have other questions about child support, enforcing support payments, or making changes to a family court order, talk to an attorney. A child support lawyer can offer legal help and give you advice about whether you will be able to modify or enforce a child support order.

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