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Q: How is child support determined?

A: Each state has child support guidelines that are used as the foundation for determining the amount of child support owed. While guidelines vary from state to state, courts setting child support orders will generally follow the amount suggested by the guidelines unless exceptional circumstances exist — such as a child requiring extensive medical treatment. Most guidelines factor in the needs of the child, the relative ability of each parent to pay support and the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parents had remained together.

Q: Can I get child support if I never married my child’s father?

A: Yes. Parents owe a duty to support their children not because they were married and divorced, but because they parented a child. You can work with an experienced family law attorney and/or your state’s child support enforcement office to obtain a support order. Since you were not married, you will have to prove paternity before a support order may be enforced.

Q: Do mothers have to pay child support when fathers have custody?

A: Yes. The child support guidelines make no distinction based on the sex of the custodial parent. Even when joint or shared custody exists, some states weigh the relative earning capacity of each parent and order support accordingly.

Q: I make more money than my ex-spouse. Am I still entitled to child support if I have custody?

A: In most cases the answer is yes, even if examination of the relative income and assets of both spouses results in the setting of a small or nominal amount. Both parents owe a duty to support their children and this duty is not eliminated because the custodial parent has a greater income than the non-custodial parent.

Q: What measures exist to ensure that a child will receive court-ordered child support?

A: Child support laws allow you to have immediate wage withholding included in your child maintenance order. Wage withholding, as with other payroll deductions like for insurance or taxes, are automatically subtracted from the paying parent’s wages by his or her employer and paid directly to you or your state’s child support registry. Wage withholding will be included in your support order unless you and your child’s other parent agree otherwise or there is good cause for an exception. If wage withholding is not possible or insufficient, an experienced family law attorney or the child support enforcement office in your state will have other means available to enforce the support order.

Q: My ex-spouse says he is going to use the laws of the state he has moved to since our divorce to reduce his support obligation. Can he do that?

A: Under the terms of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), a person paying child maintenance cannot move to a different state to get a better support order. This federal law provides continuing exclusive jurisdiction to the court that issued the original divorce decree or support order. This means that so long as the child, the parent receiving the support or the parent paying the support live in the state where the original support order was made, that original court continues to have jurisdiction over any modifications, enforcement actions or other issues arising from the support order. Thus, a parent cannot shop around for a better support order by moving out of state. Every state has adopted the UIFSA.

Q: I pay child support and was recently laid off from my job. Can I stop paying my child support until I get another job?

A: No. Courts will not allow you to decide by yourself what amount of child maintenance you should pay, and you will be held responsible for any past due amounts that accrue through non-payment in addition to any interest and fines. If you are having difficulty meeting your child support obligation, you should contact an experienced family law lawyer to learn how you may obtain a modification to the current order.

Q: Can I terminate visitation if I am not being paid the support I am owed?

A: No. Although lack of support can be financially devastating, the court generally views it in the child’s best interests to have visitation with the non-custodial parent. If you do not follow the terms of a court-ordered visitation plan, you could be subject to legal action. Similarly, you may not stop paying child support if visitation is denied. If you are behind in paying child support or have not been receiving scheduled support payments, you should contact an experienced family law attorney.

Q: My ex-spouse owes me a lot of back child support and is filing bankruptcy. What happens to the amount I am owed?

A: As a general rule, child support payments cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. This means that the parent who owed child support cannot escape this duty by filing for bankruptcy, and you should still be able to collect the support you are owed. However, the relationship between child support and bankruptcy is complex, and you should work with an experienced family law attorney who understands how bankruptcy law affects child support obligations.

Q: What happens when a parent paying child support under a court order has other children to support, either because of a new family or under another support order?

A: Most states allow adjustments in support obligations based upon the total support responsibilities of the paying parent. States have guidelines in place to determine how support will be shared. The creation of a second family or obligations under a support order will not eliminate the responsibility owed to the first family. Rather, if the paying parent’s income will not provide for both, the amount of overall support may be reduced. Valid orders will still receive a share of the support collected.

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