Family Law

Child Support Agreements, Waivers, and the Court's Last Say

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Child support follows the child and is typically based on statutory guidelines. Although parents have a lot of leeway when deciding custody, there’s not much room for negotiation when it comes to child support.

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In an ideal world, divorcing parents would always reach their own, amicable support agreements and courtroom battles would be a thing of the past. However, even when parents can agree on child support, state laws require a judge to review and approve the parents’ agreement.

What are a Parent’s Financial Duties?

Child support belongs to a child, so parents cannot agree to waive it—that’s not for parents to decide. While typically only one parent pays child support under a custody order, both parents are financially responsible for their children. A child support order typically requires the noncustodial parent to pay the custodial parent a specific amount each month. These funds should be used to help pay for the child’s food, education, clothing, and shelter.

Child Support Guidelines

Every state has its own set of child support guidelines that act as a starting point for calculating child support obligations. These state guidelines allow parents to plug in their respective incomes, the number of children in their household, and number of visitation days and nights into a calculator. The child support calculator will create a base child support award that a judge can follow or tweak to meet the child's best interests.

Judges can issue child support awards that deviate from the child support guidelines when good cause exists. For example, if a parent has extensive debts and monthly expenses that aren’t reflected through the child support calculator, a judge can reduce the parent’s child support obligation accordingly. Alternatively, in cases where a child has extensive medical needs and may require special equipment, medicines, or therapy, a court may raise a parent’s child support obligation to help meet the child’s financial needs.

Can Parents Ever Waive Child Support?

Although child support belongs to the child, in certain circumstances a judge may decide that neither parent has to pay support. In situations where a child support obligation would be minimal, the parents have very similar incomes, and where all the child’s needs are being met, parents may be able to waive child support with a court’s approval.

For example, a court might waive child support to avoid unnecessary conflict if the parents share custody and one parent’s support award under the state’s child support guidelines would be $30 or less per month.

If you have specific questions about child support in your own case, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I have no contact with my ex-spouse and don’t need his child support payments. Can I just waive child support?
  • Can I agree with my child’s other parent to pay more support than the guidelines require? Do we need to have a court approve our agreement?
  • Can I agree with my ex to pay for our child’s educational expenses rather than child support?
  • What rights does an older child (late teen) have to seek child support on his or her own?
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