Non-custodial parents are required by law to pay a monthly allowance, or child support, to help the custodial parent cover their child's expenses. An order of child support may follow a divorce or a determination of paternity. A court of law usually determines the payments, based on the income level of the other parent. Stiff fines and even jail time can be imposed for a parent failing to keep up payment.This section contains general information about child support law, including a glossary of legal terms and a primer on how a child support lawyer may help.
Child Support in Joint Custody Situations
The purpose of child support is to ensure the children are adequately provided for regardless of where they reside. The belief is that the children have a right to benefit from the income of both their parents in the same way that the children would have if their parents stayed together. Typically, the non-custodial parent is the one that will be paying child support to the custodial parent. However, in the case of joint custody, the situation is not quite so cut and dried. Joint custody can mean different things in different states, and in different cases.
Unmarried Parents and Child Support
In family law across the United States, if a married couple have a baby, the legal presumption is that the husband in that family is the father of the baby. But when a child is born outside of marriage, there is no legal presumption of paternity. Without establishing paternity, an unwed father has no legal standing as it relates to visitation, shared custody or the ability to make decisions about the welfare of the child. The court will order the "putative" (or alleged) father to submit to the testing if he does not agree to do so voluntarily. Once paternity is established, the court will issue a child support order in a manner similar to that in a divorce situation.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Child Support
There are three ways of determining child support: 1) An agreement reached between the parents through informal negotiations; 2) An agreement reached between the parents after using an alternative dispute resolution mechanism like mediation or collaborative law process and 3) Court Order. If you and your child's other parent are unable to mutually negotiate a settlement, you can use an alternative dispute resolution mechanism like mediation or collaborative law process. If you are both willing to work together and ready to make a few adjustments, then alternative dispute resolution is the way forward.
Finalizing the Child Support Agreement
The Child Support Agreement must be submitted to the court. The judge will review the agreement to check that there has been no coercion on anyone to sign the agreement and that the agreement is not unfair to anyone. Once the agreement is approved by the judge, it will form part of the divorce decree, if you are married. Once it forms part of the divorce decree, if any parent violates the agreement, the other can go to court for enforcing child support and the violating parent can be subject to penalties including a possible jail term depending on what state you live in.
Hiring a Family Law Attorney
Requesting and receiving child support payments can be complicated, and oftentimes very confusing. To learn more about the process in general, check out FindLaw's section on child support. In addition, if you find yourself in need of legal assistance or advice, consider consulting a family law attorney with experience handling child support cases.