If you're going through a divorce with children, you're probably trying to figure out how you'll provide for them while your case proceeds. Custodial parents usually request temporary child support at the very start of a divorce. Continue reading to learn more about the process.
How Courts Determine Child Support
Historically, courts used to have trouble setting child support amounts, because there were no child support formulas or calculators in place—just theoretical concepts. So child support awards between states, or even within a state, could be wildly inconsistent.
That's no longer the case. Every state now has written child support guidelines to help judges set temporary child support. These guidelines calculate how much of the parents’ net income was spent on their children prior to the filing of the divorce, and attempt to maintain that figure while the case plays out. Each parent's contribution is based on the ratio of their individual income to the combined total. Most states also consider how much time each parent spends with the child.
There's a general presumption that child support calculated under the guidelines is correct, but the laws usually give judges the discretion to decide whether there are special circumstances that would warrant deviating from the formula—for example, where one of the parents has extraordinary medical expenses.
How to Request Temporary Child Support
The most common method of asking for temporary child support is to file a "motion" with the court. A motion is basically a written request for the court to resolve a particular issue. Once filed, the requesting parent must serve or deliver of copy of the motion to the other parent, who then has a certain amount of time to respond. The response time may vary from state to state, depending on local court rules and regulations.
Generally, each parent will fill out a questionnaire concerning, among other things:
- employment and income
- assets and debts
- the cost of health insurance coverage and other medical expenses, and
- child care expenses.
The parents will also complete child support guideline worksheets, which essentially allow parents to calculate child support based on their financial information. Check here to see a sample of a typical worksheet.
Hearing for Temporary Child Support
Once the court has all the required information and motion paperwork, the judge will either decide the issue or schedule a hearing. If the parents have no objections to the proposed amount, the court can make its decision based solely on the papers submitted.
If one parent disagrees to the temporary child support calculation, the court will schedule a hearing. Courts don't always require that the parents testify in these proceedings, but it may be necessary if there are questions about a parent's earning capacity or ability to pay support. If there are no such issues, and the parents are represented by attorneys, it's not unusual for the lawyers to show up alone, argue their positions, and answer the court's questions.
However, each parent has the right to attend the hearing, and it's usually a good idea to go for two reasons:
- you can see exactly why the court made its decision, rather than getting it second-hand from your lawyer, and
- you can provide information to your attorney, in case an unexpected issue comes up.
Once the court makes its decision, the judge will issue a written, temporary order reflecting what was decided, how much support will be paid, and how long it will continue. Each spouse will receive a copy of the order and must follow its terms, unless and until it expires, or the court issues another child support order.
How Long Does the Temporary Child Support Order Last?
Generally, temporary support orders issued during a divorce should remain in effect only until the divorce process ends. That's not to say that some don't carry over into the final judgment of divorce, thus becoming permanent.
A temporary child support order is one of the most likely to convert into a permanent order. The reason is that both temporary and permanent child support orders are based on the guidelines referenced above. So, unless the information provided to the court in the temporary support motion has changed dramatically, there would be no reason to expect a different result in the final support calculations.
If parents want the court to modify the child support amount, they would have to show that there's been a substantial change of circumstances from when the court entered the original order.
Navigating child support—or any other aspect of the divorce process—can be confusing and frustrating, if not downright overwhelming. If you have questions, you should consult with a local divorce lawyer.