Child Support Law

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Child Support FAQ

Parents have a legal responsibility to provide support for their children. Married couples and unmarried parents who live together with their children share the parenting responsibility around the clock. When parents are divorced, separated, or no longer live together, the parents or the court may determine a parenting plan that identifies the custodial parent and the noncustodial parent. The family court will also determine which parent is responsible for making financial payments to the other parent to provide for the child's needs.

Shared custody and child support issues raise a lot of questions that can be difficult to answer.

The answers to many common questions depend on the individual situation and the state where each parent lives. To get the best legal advice about child support law for your situation, consult a top child support attorney in your state.

How Do Courts Calculate Child Support?

Each state has its own system for calculating child support. States use different models to determine how much a noncustodial parent has to pay in monthly child support. Most states use formulas based on a flat percentage of income. Generally, support is based on the needs of the child and the income of the parents. Other factors may include:

  • Amount of parenting time
  • Other children
  • Other support obligations
  • Medical insurance
  • Special education
  • Childcare costs

Many states offer an online child support calculator to estimate child support obligations based on the parent's income and other expenses. However, these calculators provide a general estimate. The family law court will consider your unique financial circumstances and the child's individual needs before making a final determination.

How Are Childcare Costs Factored In?

Parents are generally required to share the cost of childcare. The childcare needs of the family may change over time. For example, if the custodial parent transitions from caregiver to working a full-time job, that parent may need to arrange additional child care for the child at an increased expense. Both parents may be expected to contribute to the costs of child care after a change in circumstances. If the noncustodial parent does not want to pay increasing childcare costs, the custodial parent may need to seek a support modification.

Can You Modify an Existing Child Support Order?

You can generally modify an existing child support obligation by petitioning the court. Family courts can modify support agreements after some time has passed or if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. A change in family circumstances may be caused by:

  • Loss of a job or extended unemployment
  • Change in financial circumstances of either parent
  • Special educational needs of the child
  • Increased health care costs for the child

However, the court may look closely at the situation when one parent wants to reduce their child support obligation because of reduced income. For example, if the court suspects you are intentionally failing to find employment, the court may base your child support obligations on your earning potential.

If I Lose My Job, Do I Still Have to Pay Child Support?

If an existing court order requires you to pay child support, you will still be obligated to make those payments. Before you can reduce your child support payments, you have to modify the child support orders with the court. However, if you lose your job, the court may still require some minimum payment. State agencies can deduct child support payments from unemployment, public assistance, and Social Security benefits.

Does Filing for Bankruptcy Affect Your Child Support Obligation?

Bankruptcy does not discharge child support debt. Bankruptcy generally does not apply to child support, alimony, or other nondischargeable debts. After filing for bankruptcy, child support obligations are still in place until the court approves a modification.

Someone filing for bankruptcy is generally experiencing financial hardship. Loss of income, heavy debt, and lack of financial resources may be a reason to modify your child support obligations to reduce the monthly child support payments. However, child support modifications are not retroactive and will only affect child support payments after the modification request.

What Are the Tax Consequences of Child Support?

Child support payments are not tax-deductible nor considered income. For the custodial parent, any child support payments received are not considered income for federal income tax purposes. For the noncustodial parent, any payments made for child support are not tax-deductible.

Do Stepparents Have an Obligation to Support Children from a Previous Marriage?

Stepparents are generally not legally responsible for supporting their spouse's children. However, if the stepparent adopts their spouse's child, they will legally be considered the parent of the child. If the couple later gets a divorce, the adoptive stepparent will be financially and legally responsible for the child as if it were their biological child.

Do All Biological Fathers Owe Child Support, Even If the Mother Said She Would Get an Abortion?

Yes. A biological father is responsible for child support unless someone else has adopted the child or a court order has severed their parental rights. The biological father is legally and financially responsible for the child. If the father disputes that they are the birth father, the court may order a paternity test to establish the biological father.

Can a Custodial Parent Sue For Back Child Support After Raising the Child Alone?

In some states, parents may collect back child support owed even after the children have grown up. A parent obligated to pay child support cannot claim that the child is too old or that the other parent should have tried to collect sooner. However, some child support claims are still subject to the statute of limitations laws.

Can You Sue for Delinquent Child Support Funds in Small Claims Court?

Unlike what you may see on reality TV court shows, small claims courts do not have jurisdiction over family law matters. If you are seeking to enforce child support orders or recover unpaid child support, you may have to go to your state's child support services agency. You may also be able to contact the family court that issued the original child support order to get a judgment against the delinquent parent.

Is Child Support Suspended During Summer Vacations With the Noncustodial Parent?

Unless the court order specifies, child support obligations are continuing monthly payments that do not change depending on how much time the child spends with each parent for that month. However, suppose the parenting time changes significantly after the court calculates child support. In that case, either parent may petition the court to modify the order because of a substantial change in parenting time.

When Can I Stop Paying Child Support?

In most cases, child support obligations continue until the child reaches the age of majority. The age of majority depends on the state, with most states terminating child support when the child reaches an age of between 18 and 21. However, in some states, there is a duty to provide college support if the child qualifies as attending school, up to a certain age. Child support obligations may also end if the child gets married, enters active-duty military service, or is emancipated through the courts.