Child Support Basics: An Overview for Parents

Getting divorced is difficult

Getting divorced is difficult, time consuming, and emotionally draining. When children are involved, it can get much messier, affecting the kids as much as you and your soon-to-be-ex (if not more). Making the transition as smooth as possible for the kids is a big challenge in itself, entangled with many ins and outs.  In this article, we’ll cover the child support basics, so you have a general idea of what to expect.  As with anything in the legal realm, we advise that you consult your attorney, as laws differ (sometimes dramatically) by state.

When a divorce agreement is drawn up, a custody agreement will be made. The parent that is responsible for the children all of the time or most of the time is considered the primary custodial parent. The non-custodial parent (NCP) will be ordered to pay child support, tax-free funds used to cover the essential costs of raising the child/children.

Establishing Child Support Obligations

The obligation to pay child support is determined when the custody agreement is established. Whether you’ve arranged joint custody or sole custody, the judge will look at how much time each parent spends with the children and how much money each parent earns to calculate how much child support will be owed.

There is no “magic number.”

Just like all the other super-fun divorce laws, no state has the same standard for the child support amount. The amount is based on a number of different factors.  These can include: the needs of the child, the needs of the custodial parent, the income of the custodial parent, the paying parent’s ability to pay, and the living situation the child had before the divorce.  While we’re just covering child support basics here, know that every situation is unique.  It’s best to work with a good attorney to ensure you get the proper support for your children.

Enforcing Payment

Sometimes people suck. They may have their reasons (or excuses), sure, but it still takes a big toll on your situation. Maybe your Ex is unemployed. Maybe running from responsibility. Maybe just outright refusing to pay. Whatever the reason, you do have options to enforce your child support agreement. The first thing to do is obviously try to talk it out, saving you tons of money in court. If talking it out is a bust, you can file a motion to have the agreement enforced. This forces the non-custodial parent to cough up the dough one way or another. The courts can deduct from tax refunds, garnish wages, suspend drivers licenses or professional licenses and even sentence jail time.

Increases & Decreases in Payment

It’s always possible to revisit your child support agreement. You can go back to court if you find out the NCP (Non Custodial Parent) has gotten a promotion. The NCP can take you back if there’s a substantial decline in funding to temporarily reduce the amount. The amount can also change if your visitation agreement changes. For example, if the NCP gets more time with the kids, the payment is lowered.

Tax Time

Custody payments are tax-free, benefiting the custodial parent immensely when April rolls around. When it comes to filing those dreaded taxes, the custodial parent claims the dependent. If the two of you have multiple children, one parent may claim one child and one parent claim the other. It would be best to make this agreement with a lawyer present and have it in writing.

“Age of Majority”

Child support payments end when the child has reached the “age of majority.” This can mean the child goes off to college, gets married or reaches a specific age. There are different rules in different states, some being 18, some being 22. If the child has special needs or is still living with the custodial parent even after he reaches the age of majority, some states will still demand child support payments to continue. Child support doesn’t end automatically though! The NCP will have to request for their child support agreement to end when the child reaches the necessary age or status.

As with all of our articles, everyone’s personal circumstance is different, and these are just the child support basics.  There are many exceptions, special circumstances, and other factors to consider. Please consult with your attorney and with the laws for your state.

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