Child Support FAQ

What is child support?

Child support is a payment by one parent (often the "non-custodial parent") to the other parent for the support of their common child. It is in the best interest of a child for both parents to be obligated to pay for the support of their child.

What is a child support order?

A Child Support Order is a document from a court that states (a) when, (b) how often, and (c) how much a parent is to pay for child support. A Child Support Order is typically part of a divorce decree or paternity judgment.

Who can be ordered to pay it?

A court can order either parent of a child to pay support to other parent. The court order for support is usually payable on a monthly basis. Many states now require that child support be paid by wage assignment (automatic deductions from the paycheck) whenever available, thus reducing the need for subsequent enforcement actions.

How is the amount of child support determined?

Federal law now requires that the amount of a child support payment be set in accordance with a guideline. Having a guideline is believed to prevent widely different amounts of child support being ordered from courtroom to courtroom. Guidelines provide an objective basis for the determination of the amount of support to be paid. As a result, most states have established formulas that are used to determine the amount of the payment from one parent to the other.

What items do child support formulas consider?

The amount of time each parent spends with the child is factored into the formula. Since a “custodial parent” likely spends more time with the child he or she is also likely incurring greater expense in raising the child. This is factored into the equation when determining child support issues.

The number of children in common between the parents is often considered. The theory is that certain fixed expenses do not rise with the number of children for whom support must be provided, so the actual amount of support per child is lower given the greater number of children in common.

Special circumstances, such as extraordinary medical expenses, special educational needs, travel expenses incurred for child visitation, uninsured catastrophic losses and the cost of basic living expenses for children from another relationship, can also affect the amount of guideline child support that is to be paid.

How long must child support be paid?

All states require both parents to be financially responsible for their child during the child's minority, generally through the child's high school years. A few states have extended the time for financial responsibility beyond the minority of the child. Child support can be terminated in the event of the death of the child, if the child goes on active duty in the armed forces, or if the child becomes emancipated.

When can a child support order be changed or modified?

An order for child support can be changed or modified any time there is a "material change in circumstances" from the time that the existing child support was issued.

What can be done if child support is not paid?

In the situation where one parent does not cooperate in sharing the responsibility for child support, the controversy should be submitted to a court. The first step is to obtain an order for the payment of child support:

  • Wage Assignments: The most common "tool" used to collect child support payments that are not voluntarily made is through a wage assignment order. A wage assignment order is an order of the court directing the employer to deduct the child support payment from the earnings of an employee-obligor parent and then make this payment directly to the obligee parent.
  • Attachment Or Levy: Child support can also be collected through other procedures. For example, if the obligor has money in a bank, a valuable automobile, an investment in a mutual fund, an attachment or levy can be executed. The court can have the property of the obligor parent "seized" or taken away and given to the obligee parent.

What effect does bankruptcy have on child support?

Filing for bankruptcy protection does not allow a parent to discharge past due child support obligations. Any back payments owed for child support cannot be included as a debt and cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding.