Skip to main content

Child support

Child support is a payment made from one parent to another parent (usually from non-custodial to custodial), to help ensure the child's financial needs are met.

Child support overview

Child support is an arrangement where a non-custodial parent makes monthly payments to the child's legal guardian.

The payments go towards the child's needs, including food, shelter, medical services, transportation, and even entertainment. Child support usually lasts until the child turns 18 or graduates high school.

Key terms you should know

When you're researching child support, you'll likely see a few terms over and over again:

  • Custody. This refers to the child's legal guardian. In some cases, two people will share custody.
  • Paternity. Paternity is fatherhood. If there’s any doubt about the biological father of a child, the court may order a DNA test to establish paternity. The results will play a role in determining who’s responsible for paying child support.
  • Child support services. This term refers to the state or local office responsible for regulating and enforcing child support.

How child support is calculated

Each state has its own child support regulations. Oftentimes, the amount depends on factors such as each parent's income, the age of the children, and how many children are involved. You can find child support calculators online that will give you a ballpark idea of how much support you or the other parent will have to pay.

Child support differences between states

There are a few federal regulations on child support. For example, people who neglect child support payments for more than a year, and owe $5,000 or more, risk hefty fines and even a stay in prison.

However, the smaller details of how child support works are handled by individual states. Most states use one of three models to decide how much money the non-custodial parent needs to pay:

  • Income Shares Model: Determines how much money would go toward a child if both parents still lived together.
  • Percentage of Income Model: Uses the non-custodial parent's income to determine how much money the custodial parent receives.
  • Melson Formula: Makes sure that each parent can meet his or her own needs in addition to supporting the child.

How child support is enforced

If someone isn’t paying child support, the court will usually have to compel payment. Courts have several options to get the money from the delinquent spouse.

In some cases, a court orders the non-custodial parent's employer to withhold child support from the parent's pay and send it to the local child support services offices. In other cases, the government may withhold tax refunds, establish property liens, or take other measures.

Hiring a child support lawyer

Sometimes, a child's parents can reach an agreement outside of court through a mediator. However, a lawyer who knows local child support regulations can still help ensure that a case's outcome does not place an undue burden on either of the parents.

The question "what is child support" has a simple answer, but child support cases can often become complicated. If you’re face child support issues, hiring a lawyer and knowing the basic process can equip you for the road ahead.

Considering Divorce?

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.