LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Michael A Troy | Aug 10, 2010

Child Support in the District of Columbia

Each child is entitled to be supported by both parents; all parents have a legal duty to support their children. A parent might provide support by taking care of the child’s everyday needs for food, clothes, and a place to live, or by making a child support payment to the other person taking care of the child. Child support is usually money, but might also include medical support such as health insurance or assistance with medical expenses. It might also include help with such expenses as day care, school tuition, and after-school or summer activities.

How long does child support last?

In D.C. the duty to provide support begins when the child is born and continues until the child is emancipated. Emancipation usually occurs when the child turns 21 years old. But it can happen before then if the child gets married, joins the military, or becomes self supporting. The emancipation age is set by the state that issued the

first child support order. If D.C. issues the first support order, the emancipation age will be 21, even if the parents later move to another state where the emancipation age is younger.

Who can receive child support?

Any caretaker of a child may receive child support depending on the circumstances of the family. Generally, when the child lives most of the time with one parent, that parent has a right to receive child support from the other parent. A parent does not have to have a court order giving him or her legal or physical custody of the child in order to receive child support.

Who needs to pay child support?

Any parent can be required to pay child support depending on the circumstances of the family. Generally, when the child lives most of the time with the other parent, the parent who does not live with the child, or who the child visits, has an obligation to pay child support.

What if we have joint physical custody?

If the child lives with each parent at least 40 percent of the time, one parent might still need to pay child support. Generally, if the child spends approximately the same amount of time with each parent, the parent who earns more will need to pay child support to the other parent.

What if someone else, such as a grandparent, is taking care of the child?

Generally, when the child lives most of the time (more than 60 percent of the time) with someone else (a caretaker), that person has a right to receive child support from the parents. This includes grandparents, other relatives, godparents, or another person. That person may choose to pursue child support from one or both parents. A caretaker does not have to have a court order giving him or her legal or physical custody in order to receive child support.

Are we required to have a child support order?

No. Parents can make private agreements about who will pay child support and the amount. If you make a private arrangement, it is a good idea to pay by check or money order so you have a record of how much you paid.

How much child support will the court require?

The D.C. Child Support Guideline is the law that determines the amount of money support that must be paid. The Guideline sets the presumptive amount, which means that in most cases, a standard amount will be ordered. However, the parents can agree to a different amount, or the judge can decide that a higher or lower amount

must be paid. In some cases, such as when a child lives with each parent at least 40 percent of the time, the Guideline might not be applied. Instead a different formula may be used.

When can I file a child support case in the District?

You can file a child support case in the District anytime after the fourth month of pregnancy, but before the child turns 21 years old.

Can the amount of child support be changed later?

To change the amount of child support that must be paid under a court order, either parent can file a Motion to Modify Child Support. In a motion to modify, you ask the court to increase or reduce the amount of child support that must be paid. In some cases, a parent can ask that the child support order be suspended (stopped for a period of time) or terminated(ended altogether).

How does the court decide whether the amount of my child support should be modified?

In order for the court to grant a request to increase, reduce, suspend, or terminate child support, you must show there has been a substantial and material change in the parent’s ability to pay or in the needs of the child. Generally, this means that the new order amount must be different from the current order by 15 percent or more.

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