Child Support Basics
A child’s biological parents have a legal obligation to financially support the child whether the parents were ever married or not. That obligation lasts until the child reaches “the age of majority” (depending on state law, 18 or 21) or becomes emancipated. Emancipation means the child is beyond the control, custody and care of the parents and can include such events as the child marrying, becoming economically self-sufficient or by court order.
When parents divorce or are not married, the parent who does not live with the child is often obligated to pay child support. Support is owed whether the child lives with his or her other parent or a third party and whether or not the custodial parent can afford to support the child without help. Depending on the state, support may be owed even if the parents share custody.
Child Support Guidelines
Each state has adopted guidelines for determining child support obligations. Family courts use the guidelines to establish the amount of support. Some states allow courts to make adjustments to the amount the state guidelines indicate in cases of exceptional circumstances. This may include a child with special medical needs or other disabilities.
Support guidelines are based on various models. Each uses a different formula to establish the amount of support, though they all consider the needs of the child and the income of the parents. Provisions for medical costs and insurance are generally added to the basic amount suggested by the state guidelines. The three most common guideline formulas are:
- Income shares formula: the most widely used model. The court adds the net or gross income of the parents together and then considers the support needs of the child. The court then divides the responsibility to pay for the support proportionately based on the income of the parents.
- Percentage of obligor income formula: calculates support based upon a flat or varying percentage of the income of the paying (“obligor”) parent.
- Melson formula: calculates support using a complex formula that considers the economic conditions of the parties involved, their standard of living and the overall equities of the situation. The costs of the paying parent’s needs are considered first and then the court determines the amount of support from the amount left over.
- Investments, stocks and pensions
- Government payments and benefits like disability, social security, veteran benefits and unemployment payments
- Goods and services that come with a job or are given by family members, friends or new spouses
- Gifts and inheritances
- Income from rental property
- Overtime, seasonal or part-time second jobs
- Lottery winnings
- Trust income
Enforcement of Child Support Awards
When child support is owed but not paid, a variety of measures exist to collect past due amounts and protect against future non-payments. Some states have laws that allow a family court judge to suspend professional or business licenses, revoke driver’s and recreational licenses, require payment of future owed sums in advance or place non-paying parents in jail.
All states also have offices of child support enforcement. These state agencies are supported by the federal government and are charged with locating parents who owe child support payments and enforcing those orders against them.
Additionally, when the amount of support owed exceeds a certain level and the responsible parent lives in a different state, the federal government has the right to bring criminal charges against that parent under the federal Child Support Recovery Act.
Modifying Child Support Awards
Some states have rules that require a regular review of child support awards. Otherwise, either parent may ask the court to recalculate the amount of support if he or she can show a substantial change in circumstances. Parents receiving child support may be able to increase the support they receive when the paying parent’s income goes up, especially if the current amount of support ordered is not sufficient to meet the child’s needs. Support may also be increased because of a child’s specific needs for things like tutoring, medical treatment or therapy.
Paying parents may be able to decrease the amount of future support payments if they face the loss of a job, a reduction in income or when the custodial parent’s income increases. Federal law prohibits states from forgiving past due child support payments. Courts are reluctant to reduce child support awards and paying parents may have an earning capacity imputed to them whether or not their actual earnings reflect that amount.
Talk to a Child Support Lawyer
Because the well being of a child is at stake, child support issues are of paramount concern. The assistance of an experienced lawyer is essential to the process. Contact The Mandel Law Firm in New York City, New York to speak with a family law attorney today about your child support issues.
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