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Under Delaware law, both parents share a duty to support their children. The purpose of the state’s Child Support program is to give them the proper resources to provide healthy and happy lives for their children.
The process of obtaining child support begins when the custodial parent files a support petition requesting Family Court to order the other parent to pay child support. After the petition is filed, often the first step in the process is to determine the paternity of the father. If an unmarried couple has not signed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, a document that establishes a legal relationship between the father and the child, the court may order genetic testing to establish paternity.
Unless there is a no-contact order or an adjudicated history of domestic violence, the next step in the process is required mediation. Both parents attend a conference where a Family Court mediator uses the state’s Child Support Formula to calculate a support amount. The formula looks at both parents’ incomes, but also a variety of other factors—taxes, number of children each are required to support, child care expenses, etc.—to determine the amount. If the parents don’t agree to it, the next step is an administrative hearing before a Family Court commissioner—oftentimes on the same day as the mediation session.
If there is still disagreement and the case goes to trial, the parents are expected to complete a financial report and may conduct discovery of the other parent’s finances. At the trial, the commissioner applies any new evidence to the Child Support Formula and may determine a new amount. If either parent is dissatisfied with the decision, they have 30 days to appeal it to a judge. If either is unhappy with the judge’s decision, they may appeal it to the Delaware Supreme Court.
After child support payments begin, either parent may ask the court to review it after two and a half years, or two years if either parent’s income or expenses have changed substantially.
Delaware Child Support Services (DCSS) is the agency that oversees child support payments. In most cases, child support is paid via attachment of the noncustodial parent’s wages, and it is DCSS that issues the attachments to that parent’s employer. DCSS receives the payments and forwards them to the custodial parent.
Other payment options for the noncustodial parent include:
After DCSS receives the payments, disbursements are made to the custodial parent within two business days. Payment receipt options include:
Generally, until children subject to the order reach 18 years of age and have graduated from high school. If the child is over 18 and still enrolled in high school, the support must continue until the child turns 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first.
If a noncustodial parent is in arrears for missed child support payments, the custodial parent or DCSS may file a petition for child support arrears. A hearing may be held to allow the noncustodial parent to explain why payments haven’t been made. The court may then add an arrears payment in addition to the child-support obligation. Failure to pay may also result in incarceration until a designated amount of child support is paid.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified child support lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local child support attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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