Child Support Law

Child Support Overview

What Is Child Support?

Child Support is an amount of money that the court orders a parent to pay every month to help pay for the support of the child. Child support money is supposed to be used to pay for the child's basic needs and living expenses, including clothing, food, shelter, health care, and educational needs.

Because the law that applies to you will depend on where you, the child, and the other parent live, it is best to consult an expert in your particular state.

Calculating Child Support

Child support is calculated based on several factors. Most states have a child support calculator that provides an estimate on how much child support will cost. Generally, support is based on a percentage of the parents' combined income. There may also be adjustments made for the individual child, including the child's health insurance costs, childcare expenses, and educational needs. Other factors in calculating child support include:

  • Age of the child
  • Number of other children that the parents have
  • Residential and visiting schedules
  • Household assets and debts

For example, in Texas, child support is calculated based on a varying percentage model. A percentage of the paying parent's net income must go to the child, based on the number of children. If the parent's net income is over a certain amount, the court can order additional payments based on the needs of the child.

Child Support vs. Alimony

Child support is court-ordered support to provide for the child. Alimony is court-ordered spousal support after a divorce or separation. Also known as spousal maintenance, alimony can be ordered by the divorce court judge for a period of years or until the supported spouse remarries. For example, in Tennessee, the court can order rehabilitative alimony, periodic alimony, transitional alimony, or lump sum alimony. Either spouse may be eligible for spousal support. We recommend that you consult a Tennessee expert if you find yourself facing these issues.

One of the main differences between child support and alimony is that child support is not optional. Divorcing spouses can agree to waive any alimony payments in the divorce agreement but the judge may order child support against the desires of the parents. Similarly, a marrying spouse cannot avoid future child support payments in a prenuptial agreement.

Paternity, Step Children, & Adopted Children

Modern families may have more complex relationships between parents and children. This includes adopted children, children of unmarried couples, raising children of another family member, and marrying a partner that already has other children. This can raise a lot of questions for parents and child support depending on their relationship with the child.

Do I Have To Be Biologically Related or Have a Paternity Test for Child Support?

The responsibility of a non-biological parent to support a child depends on state law. In most states, the non-biological partner is not required to pay child support for the child of the partner and someone else. However, the process may depend on whether the partners were married and if the non-biological parent claimed to be the father.

Generally, if a partner gets a divorce or separates and claims not to be the father, the partner will not be required to pay child support. However, if the birth parent claims the partner is the father, the partner may be required to get a paternity test to show there is no biological relationship. For example, anyone in Ohio receiving public benefits or food stamps is required to cooperate with the Ohio Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) in establishing paternity and collecting child support. If you live in Ohio, we recommend asking a local expert to help you navigate these requirements. 

In some states, a person who appears to be the parent, tells others that they are the parent, and presents as the parent, the state may treat them as the biological parent even if a later test shows they are not the biological parent. Other states may enforce support if the parent puts their name on the child's birth certificate or tells the child that they are the parent.

Do I Have To Pay Support for Step Children?

A stepparent may not be required to pay for child support for the non-biological children. However, if the stepparent adopts the child, the step-parent will be legally responsible for the child, just like the birth parent. An adoptive parent will be liable for child support for adopted stepchildren after separation or divorce.

Do I Have To Pay Child Support for Adopted Children?

When an adult legally adopts a child, they are treated as the full legal parent and guardian under the law. Adoption comes with the same legal rights and responsibilities as a birth parent. If the couple is later separated or gets a divorce, the court may require one adoptive parent to pay child support for the adopted children. Since adoption laws also vary from state to state, there are adoption experts who specialize in your specific state that you should consult.

How is Child Support Enforced?

Child support is enforced through state child support services. State and county child support offices can manage receiving payments from the non-custodial parent and providing the child support payment to the custodial parent. Child support services can also help parents enforce child support compliance, collect past-due child support, modify child support terms, recover payment through child support wage withholding, and locate parents who do not respond to child support orders.

Do I Have To Pay Child Support After Bankruptcy?

Typically, child support obligations cannot be discharged through bankruptcy. For example, in Missouri, debts that are classified as non-dischargeable debts in bankruptcy include child support obligations and alimony. Child support obligations might include other types of financial support as well, such as medical bills or educational expenses for children. This means that even if all of your other debts are discharged in bankruptcy, you will still be responsible for support obligations. Even though bankruptcy law is federally governed, exemptions vary from state to state, so you should consult with a bankruptcy expert in your specific state if you have concerns.