When two parents decide to divorce, there may be children involved who are directly affected. Child support is a type of payment that one parent makes to the other parent (or a designated legal guardian) to meet that child’s reasonable needs.
While the specific rules and regulations can differ by state, there are some general guidelines that all jurisdictions must adhere to. The topic of child support can be tricky to understand, so it’s important to know the basics.
Today, we’re taking a look at how these payments work and what you can expect if they apply to you and your family.
Why Is Child Support Necessary?
There are many costs associated with raising a child. These include expenses related to that child’s health, education, and general maintenance.
When one parent is required to shoulder the entire financial burden, it can be taxing and overwhelming. If a parent is tasked with providing care for a minor child who lives in his or her home, they can file for child support. In short, this is an order requiring the other parent to contribute a monthly payment to help cover the collective costs required to raise the child.
As you can imagine, not every case goes smoothly. Divorces are emotional and personal, and requests for child support are often met with pushback and resistance. This is why each state has its own Child Support Office.
At this office, parents receive assistance on a variety of different tasks, including:
- Opening a new child support case
- Locating the other parent
- Establishing parentage
- Setting up child support payments
- Enforcing child support orders
- Periodically reviewing child support orders
Options for Setting Up Child Support
There are a few different ways that child support can be set up and arranged. Let’s take a look at each one.
During a separation or divorce, parents can complete a form called a Separation Agreement. On the form, they can agree on the amount that one party will pay the other to cover the costs of child support.
Voluntary Support Agreement
A Voluntary Support Agreement (VSA) is a type of child support agreement that both affected parties must sign. Then, a judge will also sign it. Once that signature is added, the VSA effectively becomes a court order, which means the court can legally enforce it.
Child Support Enforcement Agency
Your local Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSE) can serve as a resource when you want to file a child support case. They’ll walk you through all of the legal requirements and assist you as you complete the next steps.
You’ll need to file the case in the county where the child lives or is physically present. Alternatively, you can file it in a county where one parent resides.
Another way to officially request child support is to file a civil complaint in district court.
If you go this route, the other party will be “served” with a copy of the complaint. You can send the complaint via certified mail or arrange to have a sheriff’s deputy personally deliver it. The other party will have 30 days to provide an answer to the complaint, and they may hire an attorney for legal representation.
How Is Child Support Calculated?
Each state has its own formula and guidelines for calculating child support. Each case is different and depends on the family’s financial circumstances. A judge will reference the guidelines to decide how much child support should be paid in each case.
There are free online calculators that can help you estimate your monthly payments, though these are not always accurate. Most of the time, the biggest factor that affects payments is how much the parents earn.
While some states will take the incomes of both parents into consideration, others only look at the income of the noncustodial parent. In addition, the judge will also look at the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Other factors that can affect child support payment amounts include:
- The ages of the children
- If a parent is currently receiving child support or alimony from a previous marriage
- If a parent is currently paying child support or alimony from a previous marriage
- If a parent is responsible for children from a previous marriage
- If a parent has an irregular income
- The child’s health insurance costs (and which parent is covering them)
- The child’s daycare costs (and which parent is covering them)
- If a parent currently has an amount deducted from their paycheck (such as union dues)
- If a parent has a new partner who contributes to household expenses
In cases where both alimony and child support are due, the court will usually calculate child support first. Then, they will evaluate what’s left to set the alimony.
Who May Be Required to Pay Child Support?
No matter which state you’re in, all parents are required to support their children. The only exceptions are cases where a parent’s rights have been legally terminated, or if the parent is under the age of 18. In the latter case, that person’s parents could be held responsible for paying child support until they reach the age of 18.
This applies to all children living in the United States, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status or that of their parents.
Child Support vs. Child Custody
It’s important to distinguish between child support and child custody. While they may be intertwined, these are two separate legal issues.
You will still be obligated to pay child support, even if the other parent/party denies you child custody or visitation time. Likewise, you can still be required to pay it even if you have a joint custody agreement in place.
Child Support Payment Options
If the court requires you to pay child support, there are a few different ways you can do so. These include:
- Automatic deductions from your paycheck
- Automatic bank drafts
- Paying online via credit or debit card
Your local CSE office can walk you through these options and help you set up any type of online payment system that applies to your case. If your case did not go through CSE, then a judge will tell you how to pay.
Your Trusted Family Law Resource
Child support can be a complicated and complex subject to navigate. This is especially true if you’re already going through an emotionally draining and overwhelming divorce.
An experienced, qualified family lawyer can help you understand and complete all of your next steps. They’ll also be there to represent you, fight for your rights, and make sure your case is handled fairly.
Ready to learn more and get started? Check out our page to find trusted child support lawyers in your local area!
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