Child Support 101: Who Pays and How Much?

Divorce and custody battles can be long, confusing, and complicated endeavors, and one of the biggest points of confusion is the nature of child support. Unfortunately for any parent facing the prospect of divorce, child support is anything but a simple and straightforward topic. Even though some situations clearly call for defined amounts and defined responsibilities, to an outsider, these rules may seem impenetrable.

So who, exactly, is responsible for child support, and how much are they going to pay?

Child Support in a Nutshell

As Rowdy Williams explains, any child is owed support, no matter the circumstances—and that goes for married or unmarried couples. Child support is often a topic linked to divorce, but that’s not necessarily the case. Instead, child support is a system that guarantees a child receives adequate financial resources for his or her development.

Child support gets complicated because of the circumstances that can surround a child and his or her parents. Factors like marital state, type of custody attained, previous and current salary, and the child’s needs can all play a role in how child support is determined. Plus, states and local regions have individual laws on child support, so there’s no single federal standard making all areas the same.

Who Pays?

In cases where one parent has full or nearly full custody of the child, child support responsibility is simple; the burden is on the non-custodial parent to pay support, regardless of whether or not the parents were ever married. Child support is mandatorily owed in each of these cases.

However, when custody is split, child support responsibility gets more complicated. In most cases, the parent with majority custody will be assumed to take on most of the child’s costs, and the parent with minority custody will owe support. However, other factors may come into play when determining this—especially if two parents have made an arrangement outside of court.

How Much?

Child support payments are calculated using a number of different factors, all of which vary from state to state. There’s no single equation for putting these factors together, either, which makes calculating the exact amount difficult.

Some of these factors include:

  • The filing parent’s income. Custodial parents with lower income may require more child support than others.
  • The paying parent’s income. In general, the more you make, the more you’re required to contribute.
  • Healthcare costs. Any special healthcare costs necessary to raise the child will be factored in.
  • Overall child care expenses. If the child has any special needs, such as those related to school enrollment, therapy, or activities, they may be compensated for with child support.
  • Number of children involved. The more children involved, the more the child support will be.
  • Custody splits. A parent with some custody of the child will pay less than a parent with no custody of the child.
  • Other children. If the child support payer has children of their own, they may be required to pay less total child support.

These aren’t the only factors involved, but they are some of the most important. However, it’s important to note that if two parents agree on an amount of child support to be owed outside of court, a court decision may not be necessary. Consider negotiating outside of court as a first step.

Consequences and Future

In most cases, child support is automatically withdrawn from a parent’s paycheck as garnished wages, so there are no issues with non-payment. However, if a parent is found to be withholding sources of income or otherwise fails to pay requisite child support, there may be legal repercussions. In some cases, a warrant for arrest may be issued, and a non-payer may be fined or sentenced to jail. In other cases, the court may seek alternative forms of payment to make up for neglected transactions, including withheld tax returns, garnishing other wages, or imposed liens.

However, child support can be adjusted over time. Major changes to income, lifestyle changes, and emergencies are all grounds for increases or decreases in child support owed, which can occur over time. Typically, child support is no longer owed when the child reaches adulthood—an age which can vary from state to state.

Child support is a complicated system, but the basics aren’t hard to grasp. If you can reach an agreement out of court with your child’s other parent, the process will be much simpler. In any case, be sure to seek legal counsel before making any decisions or taking any actions.