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In the aftermath of a divorce, when there are minor children involved, one parent obtains rights and obligations as the custodial parent, and the other parent assumes duties and privileges as the non-custodial parent. In most instances, the non-custodial parent will take on a child support obligation, the requirement to provide a regular payment to the custodial parent to cover some portion of the day-to-day expenses of the child, including food, lodging and other basic needs.

How Child Support is Determined

Child support may be determined in a couple ways. The parties can agree to an amount, and can further specify that the amount be paid for a certain period of time…until the child is 18 or until the child graduates from high school, for example. Alternatively, the parties can have child support determined by applying state guidelines, which factor in the incomes of both parents. If the parents agree to an amount, and the court determines that the agreed upon amount is not in the best interests of the child, or reflects coercion, duress or unequal bargaining power, the court can order that child support will be calculated under the state formula.

Child support is typically ordered only for one’s biological children. A third party (someone other than a parent) may seek and obtain child support if neither biological parent has custody, and the child is under that party’s care. While all states base the calculation in part on the respective incomes of the parties, there are a number of other factors that may come into play, such as

  • The age or health needs of the child
  • Any special educational requirements
  • The standard of living to which the child was accustomed

Courts can also order that non-custodial parents pay some portion of medical or dental insurance premiums, religious or private school expenses, and special activities, including camps and lessons.

How Child Support is Paid

Some states automatically enter a withholding order for anyone who owes child support, so that the amount required is taken out of a person’s pay and sent directly to the child support distribution agency. Others allow the parties to enter into more informal agreements.

Child Support Enforcement

The failure to pay court-ordered child support is considered contempt of court, subjecting you to a wide range of penalties, from the attachment of wages or tax returns, to incarceration or the seizure of personal property. Under federal law, employers may be compelled to withhold wages to pay child support arrearages, and can face substantial penalties for failing to do so. Furthermore, every state has adopted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, which gives state courts the power to collect or modify child support payments.

Child Support Modification

In principle, either party to a child support order can petition the court to amend a child support payment. The reality, though, is that courts are reluctant to change child support obligations without a showing that the change in circumstances is fairly permanent.

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