Child Support Eligibility

As a parent, you may be wondering whether you're entitled to receive child support payments from your child's other parent. Typically, the noncustodial parent -- the parent who doesn't have custody of the child, apart from visitation -- pays the custodial parent for their share of the child's financial needs. But other factors determine child support eligibility, such as whether the presumptive, or putative father has established paternity with the child.

The following article outlines a few initial considerations you may encounter regarding parents' rights to receive child support payments.

Are You the "Custodial" Parent of a Child?

In order for a parent to get child support, they generally must be the "custodial" parent of a child. A "custodial" parent is one who has primary physical custody of a child. This generally means that the child(ren) live(s) primarily with the custodial parent, and this parent is chiefly responsible for day-to-day care of the child (e.g. making arrangements for day care, ensuring the child is well-fed, taking the child to various social activities, etc.).

The "custodial" parent can be designated by a court after a divorce and child custody dispute, or can be assumed naturally in single-parent households where only one parent is raising the child (while the other parent has made no effort toward seeking custody).

Child Support Eligibility in Joint Custody Situations

In joint custody cases in which a child spends equal time living with both parents, they may both be considered "custodial" parents. However, one parent may still be required to pay child support to the other. This is especially likely if there's a large disparity in the parents' incomes.

For example, if a couple gets a divorce and agree to share joint physical custody of their son, the father would likely be entitled to receive child support from the mother if he was a stay-at-home father during the marriage, while she earned a six-figure salary. Without receiving such financial support, the father would probably not be able to pay the day-to-day expenses required to properly provide care for the child, even on a half-time basis.

Determining Child Support Eligibility: Additional Considerations

Being the custodial parent of a child will not in itself guarantee that you will receive child support. A number of other legal and practical issues must be considered. These include:

  • Do you know the whereabouts/location of the other parent (i.e. address, employer, and other contact information, etc.)? If you do not know this basic information, you may be entitled to free assistance with locating the other parent, through your state's child support services agency.
  • Have you established legal fatherhood (paternity) if this issue is in question?
  • Have you gone to family court, or to the local branch of your state's child support services agency, to get a child support order?

In most states, once a child support order is issued, the state's child support services/enforcement agency can provide parent location, support collection, or support enforcement services. Nonpayment of child support can result in serious sanctions, including paycheck garnishment and loss of professional licenses.

Learn More About Your Child Support Eligibility: Talk to an Attorney

Child support can help ensure that your child receives important care and services. Determining eligibility and the amount of child support can be a complicated task. If you need help determining your eligibility for child support, you may want to speak with a local family law attorney experienced in handling these types of cases.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified child support attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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