Child Support Law


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What is Child Support Law?

Child support law deals with the legal obligation of non-custodial parents to contribute financially to the rearing of their children. These laws are enacted at the state level. However, because a child support order remains in effect until a child reaches the age of majority (or even longer in some instances), administration of the order can become a multi-jurisdictional issue as parents and children relocate. Determinations of child support are usually incorporated into family law cases that also cover matters such as divorce, separation, paternity, custody, and visitation. Like other family law decrees, support determinations are subject to modification when appropriate.

The obligation to pay child support is considered to be independent of any other rights or responsibilities of the non-custodial parent. For example, it is quite common for a court to decide questions of child support and visitation at the same time, and the judge’s decisions on the two issues may appear in the same order. This may lead a non-custodial parent to believe that the duty to pay support and the right to visitation are mutually dependent. They are not. Even if the custodial parent wrongfully denies visitation, support must still be paid. Withholding child support for any reason can lead to contempt of court and a host of other serious consequences.

Obtaining a Child Support Decree

Requesting child support is a relatively straightforward process. If a family law case has already been opened, the parent entitled to support can simply file a petition for support with the court. A similar filing may be submitted in a new case, although special notice rules apply for initiating the case to ensure the court can lawfully assert jurisdiction over the other parent. In some cases, the non-custodial parent may be the one to request a child support order, as that parent will need to demonstrate that he or she is actively paying support before the court will grant requests pertaining to custody or visitation.

State statutes provide specific guidelines for calculating child support. To simplify the process, most states have published worksheets that allow parties to enter income and expense information to arrive at a “presumptive” monthly payment amount. This figure is said to be presumptive because it is possible to deviate upward or downward based on unique circumstances. If the parties can agree on the final amount, then a stipulated order can be submitted for the court’s approval. If the parties cannot agree, it will be necessary to hold a hearing for the judge to decide the matter.

From a tax perspective, child support payments are a neutral event. The custodial parent need not declare the payments as income, and the non-custodial parent cannot deduct them as an expense. Payments are made to the court or a state child support agency. Parents who are obligated to pay support should refuse requests for direct payment by the recipient parent. There are numerous cases in which a parent did not receive credit for child support paid directly to the other parent. Moreover, despite the fact that the money ends up going to the custodial parent, support is meant to benefit the child. Informal agreements between the parents excusing missed payments will not be recognized.

Modification of Existing Decrees

It is extremely common for child support orders to be modified from time to time to reflect changes in the living circumstances of the parties. As the child grows up, either parent may experience a sudden increase or decrease in income. The child may develop special interests or needs that result in additional expenses. If nothing else, periodic adjustments to child support will be necessary to keep up with inflation and ordinary increases in the cost of living. These and other factors can justify a modification of the support order, but the party requesting the change has the burden of proving that the changed circumstances meet the applicable legal standard in that jurisdiction.

Child Support Enforcement

In an ideal world every non-custodial parent would pay child support voluntarily. Of course this does not always happen, and it is often necessary to take steps to enforce a support order through the court system, a local government agency, or a private attorney. Child support orders are like other types of civil judgments. They can be collected by garnishing the non-custodial parent’s wages, seizing bank accounts and other personal property, or placing a lien on real estate. Special laws also allow past support to be collected from income tax refunds. Delinquent parents may also face suspension of driving privileges, passports, and professional licenses. In severe cases, a judge may decide to impose jail time as a penalty for non-payment.

Benefits of Hiring an Attorney

If you believe you have a right to collect support on behalf of your child, hiring an attorney will allow you to avoid dealing with the other parent directly. It will also help ensure your child receives as much money as possible without delay. Contact an attorney now to start the process.

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Articles on HG.org Related to Child Support Law

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Child Support Law - US

  • Child Custody and Child Support

    When married parents divorce or separate, or when only one of the unmarried parents of a child has custody, the court may order the "non-custodial" parent (the parent with whom the child does not live) to pay a certain portion of his or her income as child support.

  • Child Support Guidelines - by the National Conference of State Legislatures

    All states are required by federal law to conduct reviews of their child support guidelines every four years.

  • Custody and Support Resource Guide - by the National Center for State Courts

    Courts have attempted to ease the pain of custody battles for families by providing (and sometimes requiring) mediation, parental education, and other services to divorcing parents or parting never-married parents and their children.

  • Family Law in the Fifty States - ABA

    The Family Law Quarterly publishes these charts in conjunction with the annual "Family Law in the Fifty States Case Digests."

  • Handbook on Child Support Enforcement

    This Handbook on Child Support Enforcement is a guide to help you get the child support payments your children need and deserve. Although it is written for people who are working through Child Support Enforcement (CSE) offices, it will also be useful to parents who are working with private attorneys.

  • Office of Child Support Enforcement FY 2011 Preliminary Report

    The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) Preliminary Report highlights financial and statistical program achievements which occurred in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008. The information was retrieved from State-submitted reports on program status sent to the Federal government on a quarterly and annual basis.

  • Summary of the Practice Parameters for Child Custody Evaluation - AACAP

    This summary is presented as a guide for clinicians evaluating the often delicate and complex issues surrounding a child custody dispute.

  • U.S. Code: Federal Parent Locator Service

    The Secretary shall establish and conduct a Federal Parent Locator Service, under the direction of the designee of the Secretary referred to in section 652 (a) of this title, which shall be used for the purposes specified in paragraphs (2) and (3).

  • Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (1997)

    This Act, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), revisits the problem of the interstate child almost thirty years after the Conference promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA).

Organizations Related to Child Support Law

Publications Related to Child Support Law


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