Child Support

Child support is the financial contribution one parent makes to another for the support of their children. Child support may be ordered in divorces, dissolutions, legal separations and actions to establish paternity. It is ordered by the court or established by agreement of the parties in an amount that should allow the child to enjoy the standard of living he or shewould have enjoyed had the parents remained married.

Q.: Who pays child support?

A.: In general, the “non-residential” parent pays child support to the “residential” parent (the parent with whom the child lives). In shared parenting plans, the amount of support may be reduced according to the amount of time the child spends in each parent’s home.

Q.: How is child support calculated?

A.: Child support is calculated according to a formula written into state law. That formula combines the father’s and mother’s gross income. Each parent is allowed certain gross income deductions, including the sum oflocal income tax actually paid, any child or spousal support order for other children or former spouses, and the value of a federal dependency exemption for each dependent of his or her household (not including the dependent(s) for whom child support has been ordered).

For example, assuming it were the tax year 2003 and you had a child by a new marriage and a non-residential child from a previous marriage, you would deduct $3050 from your gross income before calculating support for the child of your earlier marriage. If you also had been ordered to pay spousal support to your former spouse, the annual sum of the spousal support would be deducted from your gross income and added to your former spouse’s income.

The total of both parents’ adjusted gross income is applied to a chart, which identifies the amount of support required to raise children in the parents’ income category. The paying parent pays his or her pro-rated share of that charted amount. For example, if Mom earns $10,000 (gross salary) per year, and Dad earns $30,000 (gross), the combined gross income is $40,000. For one child, the 2003 charted amount was approximately $6,500 of child support per year. If Dad were paying support, he would pay $4,875 per year, or 75 percent of the charted amount, because he earned 75 percent of the total combined parental income.

Q.: What about day care expenses or health insurance costs?

A.: Factored into the charted amount of child support is the cost of work-related day care expense and major medical insurance coverage for the child. Thus, if the charted amount is $4,000 child support per year, but Mom also pays $1,500 per year in day care to go to work, and Dad also pays $500 per year for medical insurance to cover the child, the total child support cost is $6,000 per year. It is this total cost of the child’s health insurance coverage that is divided between the parents according to each parent’s relative share of their combined income.

The court typically will order one or both parents to carry health coverage, if available at reasonable cost. If no affordable coverage is available, then parents will be ordered to share in some way the costs of health care. Uncovered medical costs are usually ordered to be paid according to the pro-rated shares of the parents’ income, after the residential parent pays the first $100 per year.

Q.: If I pay child support, do I automatically get to claim the child on my tax return?

A.: Though federal tax law provides the dependency exemption to the custodial parent, state courts have the power to allocate the exemption to the non-custodial parent if it will result in a net tax saving that will benefit the child.

Q.: How long does child support last?

A.: Child support is payable until the child reaches the age of 18, or until he or she graduates from high school, whichever is later. If, however, a child is no longer attending high school and is not living with or dependent upon a parent (i.e., is married or otherwise emancipated), then child support may end before age 18. If a child is over 18 years of age and still attends high school, support will continue until the child has completed high school, up to age 19, unless otherwise ordered or agreed.

Special rules apply to handicapped children who will not be expected to be self-sufficient by the age of 18. If a child is handicapped, child support can be ordered to be paid well beyond the child’s 18th birthday. The duration will depend upon the child’s capacity for independence.

The court’s jurisdiction to order child support ends at age 18, with the exception of handicapped children and those still in high school after age 18. This is true even when a child over 18 is entirely dependent on parents while attending college. If, however, parents agree in their divorce decree to support a child beyond the age of 18 (to pay for college, for example), then the court can enforce that agreement.

For children born out of wedlock, support generally is due from the date of birth to the date of “emancipation” (age 18 or independence), but is ordered only after the fatherhood of the child is legally determined.

Q.: What happens if the court orders support and it isn’t paid?

A.: All support orders must be paid. Payment can be made in one of three ways. Most common is the “withholding order,” in which the wages or bank account of the person owing support is “garnished,” meaning child support is taken directly from a paycheck or bank account. Self-employed persons must post cash bonds that may be used if the payor misses a payment. (The payee is paid from the bond, and the payor must then reimburse the bond fund.) A “seek work” order is used for unemployed parents. If a parent is not working when the child support order is issued by the court, then that parent must regularly report what he or she is doing to find work, and any income received or job obtained.

Any person involved in a support order has a support officer at the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA). Without cost, the CSEA officer will attempt to enforce a support order by filing contempt motions on behalf of the payee and by garnishing wages or bank accounts of the person owing support.

The CSEA can take certain income sources to meet past due support. For example, any tax refund, company bonus or similar lump sum of money received by a delinquent payor can be taken to pay overdue child support. Also, the law now has enforcement provisions so that the renewal of certain licenses (such as recreational, professional or drivers’ licenses) may be denied or suspended if a license-holder is delinquent in paying child support.

Q.: Can parenting time be denied if a parent doesn’t pay support?

A.: No! A parent who deliberately denies court-ordered parenting time rights may be considered in contempt of court, which is punishable by a jail sentence, a fine, imposition of attorney fees, and court costs. Also, if the parent who is denied parenting time seeks a change of custody, the custodial parent’s deliberate withholding of parenting time may be an important factor to the court in deciding who will receive custody. Depriving a parent of time spent with a child is not a way to get legal help in collecting child support.

Q.: Can support be stopped if a parent denies parenting time?

A.: No! Just as a custodial parent may not deliberately disobey court-ordered parenting time to try to collect child support from a non-paying parent, the non-custodial parent also may not willfully disobey a child support order. A person who withholds support payments also may be considered in contempt of court. In addition, if the parent who withholds child support seeks custody, the deliberate non-payment of support may become an important factor in deciding that issue. The law provides remedies for denial or interference with parenting time. Depriving a child of support is not one of them.

Q.: Can support be modified?

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may be modified if circumstances change (e.g., there is an involuntary loss of employment, military call-up, the birth of a new child or a disability determination). Either parent may request a modification by contacting an attorney or the CSEA of the county in which the support order was issued.

The information contained herein is general and should not be applied to specific legal problems without first consulting with one of our attorneys.


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