When married parents divorce or separate, or when only one of the unmarried parents of a child has custody, the court may order the "non-custodial" parent (the parent with whom the child does not live) to pay a certain portion of his or her income as child support. This is not the only scenario in which such support might arise. Less frequently, when neither parent has custody, the court may order them to pay child support to a third party who cares for their child.
No matter what situation gives rise to the need for child support, it might help to think of the legal right to child support as being possessed by a child (which it technically is), for his or her proper care and upbringing, regardless of who actually receives child support payments.
The Government's Role in Child Support
Because in the United States nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and almost one-fourth of all children are born to unmarried parents, the regulation of child support is an important social issue. Whereas once the arrangement for and payment of child support was left to the parents, now state child support enforcement agencies are taking an aggressive role in seeking payments from non-custodial parents.
Frequently, the agency and court will work together to implement a child support withholding order, by which the support amount is automatically taken from the payer's paycheck. If the child support payments become delinquent, the agency can implement other collection mechanisms, such as withholding support amounts from tax refunds, or seizing real estate or personal property.
Child Support Orders
Child support orders are issued by the family court, which bases the amount of the support on the state child support guidelines. These guidelines establish the amount of support that must be paid, based largely on the non-custodial parent's income and the number of children. The court will also take into account other relevant factors, such as the custodial parent's income and the needs of the children.
The court can deviate from the guidelines if there are significant reasons for doing so. The fact that the custodial parent has a high income does not itself justify deviation from the guidelines, because under the law children have the right to benefit from both parents' incomes. Child support can be increased if there is a change in circumstances justifying the increase, such as an increase in the payer's income or the cost of living, a decrease in the custodial parent's income, or an increase in the child's needs. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if the circumstances justify the reduction.
Unmarried Parents and Child Support
In cases involving unmarried mothers seeking child support, the first step may be to legally establish the father's "paternity" of the child. The father can do this voluntarily, but if he does not the mother may need to bring a lawsuit to establish paternity, which is usually done using genetic (DNA) testing. 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.
Interstate Moves and Child Support
When the non-custodial parent moves to another state, the custodial parent may have to rely on the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act to implement or ensure payment of child support. This Act provides the mechanisms by which a support order issued in one state can by enforced by the courts of another state.
Don't Second-Guess It: Get Professional Child Support Help Today
If you're facing a potential child support issue or dispute, whether due to divorce or as a single parent, a family law attorney can help by fairly and zealously representing either side in a child support proceeding. An attorney will work to obtain the best possible result in the entry of a child support order, enforcement of an existing order, or in establishing or disproving paternity. Get started today by contacting a local child support attorney or learn more on our child support legal answers page.