Family Law

Who Has to Pay Child Support?

Child support is money typically paid by one parent to another parent, for their minor child's benefit, when they aren't raising their child together. For many parents, child support arises when they divorce. One of the main issues in many divorce cases is deciding child support issues.

Now more than ever, however, parenting is done in the setting of all kinds of non-traditional families. It follows that the question of who pays child support may have a broader answer.

Child Support After Divorce

Every state allows a court to order a non-custodial parent to pay child support after a divorce. Each state has laws or guidelines for calculating the amount of child support. Generally payments are made to the parent who has custody of the child. Your state's law may allow for adjustments in child support, depending on custody arrangements and how much time a child spends with each parent.

A parent who fails to pay child support can face criminal charges. Ending a marriage doesn't end parenthood. In most states, if divorced parents remarry each other, a prior child support order is set aside.

Unmarried Parents

Children born to unmarried parents are entitled to support if the parents separate. Before starting child support, it's essential to identify the father. This is done by the father admitting paternity or the mother filing a paternity case. The most accurate way to establish paternity is through DNA testing.

Although there's no consistent law for unmarried same-sex parents, California requires child support after same-sex parents end their relationship.

An annulment is a statement by a court that no marriage existed between the parents even if children were born during the marriage. However, parents still have the duty to support their children.


Generally, a stepparent doesn't have to support a stepchild during a marriage to the natural parent. There are two exceptions to this general rule. The first is when a stepparent establishes an in loco parentis relationship with the stepchild. Basically, this means that the stepparent intends to treat the stepchild as his or her natural child. Also, several states have laws that create a duty for a stepparent to support a stepchild during the marriage to the natural parent.

There's usually no duty for a stepparent to support a stepchild after divorcing the natural parent. However, a stepparent can agree in writing to support a stepchild after divorce.


In general, grandparents don't have a duty to pay child support for their grandchildren. This is true even if the parent of the grandchild is under the age of 18. However, if a grandparent voluntarily assumes the role of a parent, or establishes an in loco parentis relationship, the grandparent may have the duty to support the grandchild. Also, several states do have laws that make grandparents liable for supporting their minor child's baby.

Every family is unique, and child support in today's world may not be a matter between parents. Discuss your situation with your family law lawyer and do right by your child.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I never married the mother of my child. Can I pay her one lump sum for child support?
  • Does my state make grandparents pay child support?
  • Can stepparents provide voluntary support to stepchildren without taking on permanent responsibility?
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