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So How Does Child Support Actually Work?

And all the rest of your child support questions answered.

Originally Published: 
how does child support work
ingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash

One of the trickiest things to understand if you’re a single parent is how child support works. Depending on your relationship with your former partner, this can be either an incredibly stressful thing to deal with or something you work through together amicably. In some cases, getting child support from a former partner can turn into an ugly battle, which no one wants to deal with. If you’re already struggling with navigating the bureaucracy of child support or want to brush up on the details for a friend or family member dealing with it, we’re here to help.

The first and most important thing to remember is that child support is different all over the country. While we can give you some general guidelines on what you need to know, it’s crucial for you to check with your own state to find out what rules are in place. Each state has its own mandates for determining how child support is calculated (and how everything is monitored), so make sure you’re following the laws set forth by your home state.

That said, here’s general information about child support, what to do if your partner isn’t paying, how to know how much you’ll have to pay, and more.

How do you know how much child support to pay?

Just like each state has its own mandates for how child support works, each state (and each court) also has its own way of establishing how much child support is owed. It generally is figured out by income and expenses, but a court can use its discretion to come up with a final figure. If you’re not the custodial parent and will have to pay child support, it’s in your best interest to be forthcoming with the court on your income, expenses, and any other factors when the conversation begins.

What determines who pays child support?

There are assumedly two parties involved in a child support conversation. One is the custodial parent and the other is the one who pays child support. The custodial parent, like the name suggests, is the parent with primary custody of the child or children. Marriage has nothing to do with child support — it comes down to the parents of the child, regardless of their relationship, whether past or current.

In most cases, the noncustodial parent pays child support. This is determined either by them openly acknowledging they are the parent, or in some cases, a paternity test is administered. The courts will decide custody and child support.

Does a new partner affect child support?

If you remarry, for the most part, your child support isn’t affected. The courts believe that only the parents of the child or children are the ones responsible for them, regardless of any new partners or spouses in the picture. However, sometimes household incomes change with a new marriage. Though the court most likely won’t factor this into child support, in some cases they will. So your payments might be affected if either the custodial or non-custodial parent remarries. This will be up to the court hearing your case.

Another factor here is if the new spouse wants to adopt the child. In most cases, this is the new spouse of the custodial parent. However, that new spouse can only adopt the child if the non-custodial parent relinquishes their parental rights. If they do so, they’re no longer obligated to pay child support.

What does child support actually cover?

Of course, the money for child support is for the child, and it usually helps cover a child’s food and living expenses. Parents on child support are also required to pay any mandatory add-on costs, like health insurance. There are also nonmandatory add-ons like extracurricular activity fees the court can include in child support expenses.

What to do if the other parent won’t pay child support?

If you’re running into an issue where the other parent won’t pay child support for one reason or another, you have to get the court involved. Though it may be tempting to try to handle it yourself, it really is a legal matter, and you should let a judge deal with it.

If someone isn’t paying child support, it can cost them dearly. Failure to pay can result in jail time, garnished wages, seizure of property, and more. Plus, not paying child support just looks bad in the eyes of the law and can cause further trouble down the line, especially if that parent wants to seek more custody of the children or bring up a complaint with the custodial parent.

Can the amount of child support owed be modified?

It’s possible to get the amount of money owed adjusted if you have extenuating circumstances. While not all courts will make adjustments to child support because of a job change, it can happen. If you’re the parent paying child support and have a drastic change in finances, you can bring it up with the court to see if the amount you owe to the custodial parent can be lowered.

Can a parent cancel child support?

When a parent puts the mother or father of their child on child support, it is possible to cancel it. Sometimes, the amount can be increased or decreased, and if both parties come to a mutual agreement, they could file a petition and return to court. Ultimately, it’s up to the court to approve the new arrangement or whether the child support order ends.

How do you stop paying child support?

Sometimes child support isn’t the answer for households with separated parents. If the parents reach a mutual agreement and inform the court of their arrangement, each parent can avoid court-ordered child support payments. Parents may be able to avoid either party paying child support as long as both parties assist their children financially and fairly.

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