If you’ve been through a divorce, you’ve probably dealt with some strong emotions. If children had also been involved, it would have been even more complex.
When you don’t have primary custody of your child, you’re expected to pay child support, and if you do, you’ll receive those payments. Child support is a series of payments designed to ensure the basic financial needs of a child are met following a divorce.
Understanding the basics of who pays, how much, how long, and the other factors may demand some research. If you’re going through the divorce process now, here are some things you’ll probably want to know about child support.
- Who Pays
FindLaw explains that as a general rule, “when married parents divorce or separate, or when only one of the unmarried parents of a child has custody, the court may order the ‘non-custodial’ parent (the parent with whom the child does not live) to pay a certain portion of his or her income as child support.”
There are other, less common scenarios in which child support might arise, such as when neither parent has custody. In this case, the court will usually stipulate that both parents pay to a third party who has guardianship of their kids.
- How Much Will Be Paid
It’s all but impossible to quote a general, concrete number to designate the amount people pay for child support. It’s usually set by a judge based on a number of factors such as income of each parent, deductions on taxes, and the age and needs of the child.
For example, a boy or girl with special needs or a serious illness will typically require more support than one without. While it’s hard to arrive at an exact number, you can use a handy child support calculator to get a sense of what’s likely to be owed.
- When Payments End
Child support payments do not last forever. Once the dependent child reaches the age of 18, the payments will usually stop. There are a few exceptions. Child support payments may end at a different time if the child:
- marries before 18
- is emancipated from parental control
- has a disability or illness that prevents them from taking care of themselves after he/she turns 18
- is still in high school
Given such extenuating circumstances, the judge will re-evaluate the situation and adjust the mandated payments accordingly.
- How Custody Influences Payment Requirements
If you and your spouse share custody, the rules for child support are a little different. If the custody is close to 50/50, the judge might not require that one spouse contribute child support payments.
“Some parents have an oral agreement, which allows them to avoid paying child support when the child is not in a respective parent’s care,” explains Debrina Washington of VeryWellFamily. “Additionally, some written agreements will specifically address when support is paid.”
If one parent has greater custody than the other, the court will likely require that the parent with lesser custody pay child support, but it will be at a reduced rate.
- How Child Support Is Paid
Support may be paid in several ways, based on the preferences of the parties involved and/or a judge’s decision. It can be paid by cash, check, or money order. In some cases, direct deposit may be set up.
It’s essential for the parent who receives payments to keep a record of them for protection in the event that the spouse fails to make correct payments at some point.
- How It Affects the Unmarried
There are few cases in which a non-custodial parent would not be expected to make child support payments. Being unmarried is not one of them. As a general rule of thumb, if your name is on the birth certificate, you can be asked to make child support payments.
“Being married or not married … is irrelevant to a child support order determination, as is the question of whether you wanted the child or not,” says an article from Family-Law. “Even if you made it clear you did not want to have a child, the court can order you to pay support unless you are able to relinquish your parental rights.”
- What Happens When Payments Are Not Made
If you stop receiving child support payments for any reason other than what was specified above, you’re entitled to take legal action. If the payor can’t afford the payments, that person should have contacted the court.
“All states have anti-retroactive modification laws,” says Ron Lieberman, a New Jersey family law attorney. “Meaning that a modification of child support can’t be made retroactive beyond the date of the filing of a motion in court … so the payor has every incentive to seek immediate court action instead of ignoring his or her payment situation.”
Payors who refuse to pay child support when they can afford it can face severe consequences, such as jail time. Understanding child support and all the ramifications are vital to navigating the passages of a difficult divorce with success.