Child support is money a parent pays for at least some of a child's living expenses. Judges can order child support whenever parents live apart, whether they are separated, divorced, or never married. Typically, the parent who does not live with the child, called the non-custodial parent, pays child support to the parent caring for the child on a day-to-day basis.
Courts Award Child Support When Parents Live Apart
Both parents are responsible for their child's needs, whether they live together or not. The court gets involved when the child is living with only one parent. Often, the parent who pays child support is the father. However, mothers who do not live with their children can also be ordered to pay child support.
Child support payments are supposed to pay for at least part of the child's food, clothing, childcare, housing, and education. The child support order may also include obligations to pay for health insurance and medical care, or even for lessons and other activities.
State Guidelines Set Amounts for Child Support
There are no national standards for setting child support. Each state has its own formula for figuring out the amount of child support. Most states use a formula that looks at both parents' incomes. A parent's income may include salary, overtime pay, income from a business, benefits from Social Security and Workers' Compensation, rents received, inheritances, gifts, and lottery winnings.
A few states, including Texas and New York, set the amount as a percentage of the paying parent's income. Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana use a more complicated system that takes the parents' living expenses and incomes into account.
Complying with a Child Support Order
Child support orders set both an amount and a due date for payments. Typically, you can pay by check, money order, or payroll deduction. Most states have registries that accept your payment and send it out to the other parent. Registries keep track of the payments so both parents know what has been paid. If the paying parent gets behind on child support, the state can help the other parent collect what's due.
Child Support Stops with Adulthood
Unless the child has special needs, child support usually stops when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. The order may be changed from time to time as the child gets older, or as the parents' incomes increase or decrease. Child support and visitation are separate issues. You can't stop paying child support just because your ex makes visiting with your children difficult.
A Family Law Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the spending of child support can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.