Child Support FAQ

Child Support FAQ

Child Support FAQ

Child support is a critical aspect of a child’s life and upbringing. As such, parents must understand how child support laws work and how courts issue support orders. Below are some of the most common questions about child support, what it covers, and how it can be changed over time. 

How does a parent obtain child support?

According to the U.S. Family Law, when two parents cannot decide the terms of child support among themselves, it falls on the court to issue an order that includes the amount of child support that each parent should pay under the state’s Child Support Guidelines.  

Why is a child support order necessary?

Since it is the legal responsibility of each parent to support their children, the court needs to implement a child support order. So, if one of the parents is not willingly cooperating, they can be forced by the law to provide child support. A court-ordered child support arrangement makes both parents legally liable to follow its requirements. That way, the custodial parent can go to court if the noncustodial parent suddenly stops paying or refuses to cooperate.


What is child support supposed to cover?

Child support should cover the basic living expenses of a child, including food, shelter, education, clothing, necessary medical care, and reasonable recreation. Child support is not intended to cover the living expenses of the custodial parent (the one the child is permanently living with). A child support arrangement can be legally enforced if a court has ordered it or if the parents have a valid agreement in place.


Can I get child support without a legal separation or divorce?

If you have never been married, you can still file a petition for a child support order directly with the court. You can work with an attorney or the local Division of Child Support Services to file the necessary paperwork. If you are currently married but don’t want to file for divorce, you need to research the state’s law and ideally consult with a family law attorney about your options. However, if there was no prior marriage, you will have to prove the child’s paternity first.

How does the court calculate the amount of my child support?

Generally, the court will determine the amount of child support using the respective state’s Child Support Guidelines. The amount is based on the income of both parents and the amount that intact families spend on their children on average. In other words, anyone who is in the exact same financial and custodial situation as you will have to receive or pay the same amount of child support. 


In some situations, the support amount can be adjusted under specific circumstances, including if the child has extraordinary expenses (e.g., special schooling or medical care) or if the parent has unique needs (e.g., medical care).


In calculating the amount of child support, the court considers a range of factors pertaining both to the child and the parents. The court will take into consideration the education, earning capacity, and financial background of each parent, as well as whether the custodial parent has remarried and has financial support from their new spouse. This means that part of the paperwork required by the court includes your medical and financial information.


How is child support collected?

Every child support process begins by determining if the noncustodial parent is indeed the parent of the child or children that support is sought for. If support is sought while the parents are getting a divorce, parentage is assumed by the law and cannot be contested. As mentioned earlier, in the case of no marriage, the paternity of the child or children must be proven. Once that happens, the custodial parent can apply for child support. When the court establishes the right to collect child support, it is usually collected from the paying parent in one of several ways. These include electronic payments, direct deposits into the bank account of the custodial parents, or bank checks.


If the paying parent fails to pay child support, the amount is deducted straight from their wages by their employer, who then sends the money to a child welfare agency that transfers it to the custodial parent.

How do I know that the amount of child support is fair?

The premise of family law is to set a child support amount that is fair. Some of the main factors that determine a fair rate include the income of both parents, where the child lives the majority of the time, each parent’s other child support obligations, the cost of health insurance and daycare for the child, as well as the age and number of children involved in the case.


Can the amount of child support be modified in time?

Yes, it can. However, for a parent to file a petition for child support modification with the court, they need to have a good reason to request it. For example, if your child is incurring additional expenses at school or has developed a condition that requires extra medical care, this is a justification to request increased child support. 


In other situations, the custodial parent can request a child support modification if the financial conditions of either parent have changed significantly.


Is child support automatically changed if a parent loses their job or gets a new job?

Child support does not change automatically. If the circumstances of a parent change in a way that may affect their ability to provide child support, they need to request a change in the court order to accommodate the changes in their pay. The affected parent will have to file a child support modification petition.


Does child support end when the child turns 18?

Generally, a child is considered an adult when they turn 18 years of age. That’s when they are no longer entitled to receive financial support from either parent. Some child support orders may even state that they expire when the child reaches the age of 18. The noncustodial parent’s child support obligation can also end if a child successfully seeks emancipation before turning 18.


What is “Past Due Support?”

When a parent skips or misses a child support payment, that accumulated debt of unpaid support is called “past due support,” and the parent is still legally obligated to pay it. If this turns into repetitive behavior, the noncustodial parent can have their paychecks garnished or face other consequences. Child support debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

What happens if the other parent refuses to pay child support?

If that happens, the other parent needs to report it in court. Failure to pay child support can have serious legal consequences, and the non-paying parent can even face criminal charges in some cases. Every state runs a government agency charged with collecting child support on behalf of the custodial parent. So, you can either hire a family law attorney to help you when there is a lack of cooperation from the other parent, or you can turn to a government agency.


If you feel like consulting with a specialized lawyer about your child support situation, you can find a wide network of legal experts with Legal Chiefs.


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Family Law FAQ

With major life events and changes, it’s always a good idea to consult a lawyer. Getting through a divorce may also be a very stressful project and you need someone experienced to protect your rights as well as protect your children’s rights (if you have any). Here at Legal Chiefs, we can get you in touch with someone current with the laws in your state concerning divorce, marriage, marital property, child custody, visitation, and family support
The grounds for divorce may be based on no-fault or fault depending on the state, but no-fault divorce is available in some form in all 50 states. Most of the states also have fault-based grounds as an additional option. A no-fault divorce is one in which neither of the partners blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage and common bases for no-fault divorce may be “incompatibility,” “irretrievable breakdown,” or “irreconcilable differences.” Suppose the parties have lived separately for a certain period with the intent that the separation is permanent. In that case, it is another common basis of no-fault, but once again, the specifics vary from state to state. With a fault-based divorce, the list of grounds may include physical cruelty, mental cruelty, adultery, attempted murder, habitual drunkenness, desertion, use of addictive drugs, impotence, insanity, and infection of one’s spouse with venereal disease.
While every divorce starts with a bit of bitterness, statistics show that most of the cases are settled without the need for a judge to decide on a property or other issues. In most cases, spouses are free to divide their property as they see fit in what is called a “marital settlement agreement”, a contract between the married couple that divides property and debts and resolves other divorce issues. However, having a family law attorney is still recommended, and in case the division of property cannot be settled, then the court must make the determination. Once again, the specifics vary from state to state, but many states allow both parties to keep their separate and nonmarital properties as a starting point. Another thing to know about assets and divorce is how dividing marital or community property works. Again, each state has its specifics, and some states are community property states by definition. For example, the state of California divides equality marital property unless a premarital agreement specifies otherwise. However, most states apply the “equitable distribution” concept where the court divides the marital property as it thinks fair. This doesn’t necessarily mean a 50-50 division. The common factors considered by the court include the amount of nonmarital property, each spouse’s earning power, waste and dissipation, fault, services as a homemaker, duration of the marriage, age, health, and others.
When parents can’t agree on custody of their child/children, the court will decide custody based on “the best interests of the child.” There are many factors involved, not one of which is considered the most important.
Joint custody has two parts - joint legal custody and joint physical custody, and a joint custody order can have both or one of the parts. ● Joint legal custody refers to both parents sharing the significant decisions regarding their child/children, which usually include school, health care, and religious training. Other decisions may include summer camps, extracurricular activities, the age for dating or getting a job, discipline methods, etc. ● Joint physical custody refers to the time spent with each parent. The amount of time is flexible and can range from dividing the time between the two parents’ equality to visits every other weekend, and so on. The residing addresses of the parents are often considered, and living close is important, especially in situations where the time spent with both parents will be divided equally.
Since 1965, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation enabling grandparents to petition the courts for visitation rights with grandchildren. However, granting such rights is not automatic, and in most cases, grandparents merely have grounds for asking for a visitation order. Most commonly, a grandparent may petition for visitation after the death of a parent or upon divorce of the parents. Some states allow petitions when the child has previously lived with the grandparent, a child is born out of wedlock, and when a parent is incarcerated.
Unlike most legal matters where specifics depend on the state, talking to a judge separately is prohibited in all 50 states. All communication with the judge takes place on the record during a hearing. This is a way of ensuring fairness to both sides, and just as you would not want the judge to talk to the other party without you being present, the judge is not allowed to talk to you without the other party being present.
Only before a judge has done anything on the case, each party files one “peremptory challenge.” It costs $450, and there is no way to waive this fee. A new judge will be randomly assigned to your case, meaning you cannot pick the new judge. Be careful with the strict timing requirements for filing a peremptory challenge, as the money spent on a challenge is not refunded.