State laws are uniform in the concept that parents have a duty to support their children. This legal duty applies to all parents, although it's common to think of child support duties in the setting of divorce or paternity cases. It's also common to confuse the power parents have to make agreements on child support, or even waive the duty pay, and what the law requires.
While there are different methods for setting and even paying support, it's also important to know about how state law provides the framework and guidelines for child support arrangements. The bottom line is parents can't agree not to pay support. State law and the courts have final say.
Parental Duty to Support a Child
Eliminating child support isn't an option for parents. A child's right to receive support from his or her parents is inherent and can't be waived.
The status of the parents' relationship doesn't matter. The duty of parents to support their children applies whether they are married, divorced, separated or unmarried. The law reflects public policy on this basic duty of support.
Parents can't limit or alter this basic duty by agreement. For example, a parent can't agree to give up parental rights in exchange for not paying support. A parent can't buy another parent's rights or sell his own rights. A child's basic right to be supported remains.
Child Support Guidelines
Each state's laws contains child support guidelines, which are the starting point in setting a parent's child support obligation. The law allows many factors to go into a child support calculation, and judges have a good amount of flexibility in making decisions.
The most important principle guiding child custody, visitation and support decisions is the best interest of the child standard. In essence, it means to do what is best for a child's overall well-being. A complete waiver or release of the duty to pay support is generally against the best interest standard, and a court won't agree to it.
Flexibility in Setting Support
Parents do have a great deal of flexibility in creating parenting plan and child support terms, and most states encourage parents to come up with solutions, rather than have a judge decide. However, it's also important to realize that the courts do keep the power to make the final decision on support issues. The law, and not the parents' agreement controls.
It's also important to realize that a child may have the right to bring child support issues to court. For example, an older child may have the right to have a court decide support issues for college costs, and won't be bound by his or her parents' child support agreement.
Finally, always remember child support isn't about the parents; it's about the child.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I give up child support payments if I don't want any contact with my ex-spouse?
- Can I agree with the other parent to pay more than the guidelines? Should we get court approval of our agreement?
- What rights does a child have to seek support on his or her own? For example an older teen or a college-age child?
- Can I agree with my ex-spouse to pay for our child's education and other expenses rather than child support, and is court approval a must?