Family Law Practice
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, or the one with whom the child does not live, to pay a certain portion of his or her income as child support. Less frequently, when neither parent has custody, the court may order them to pay child support to a third party who cares for their child. When the child is in the custody of both parents, however, and the parents are providing a reasonable level of support, the law usually does not interfere with or regulate the amount of financial support provided.
Because in the United States nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and almost one-fourth of all children are born to unmarried parents, the regulation of child support is an important social issue. Whereas once the arrangement for and payment of child support was left to the parents, now state child support enforcement agencies are taking an aggressive role in seeking payments from non-custodial parents. Frequently, the agency and court will work together to implement a child support withholding order, by which the child support amount is automatically taken from the payer's paycheck. If the child support payments become delinquent, the agency can implement other collection mechanisms, such as withholding support amounts from tax refunds, or seizing real estate or personal property.
Child support orders are issued by the family court, which bases the amount of the support on the state child support guidelines. These guidelines establish the amount of support that must be paid, based largely on the non-custodial parent's income and the number of children. The court will also take into account other relevant factors, such as the custodial parent's income and the needs of the children. The court can deviate from the guidelines if there are significant reasons to do so. The fact that the custodial parent has a high income does not itself justify deviation from the guidelines, because under the law children have the right to benefit from both parents' incomes. Child support can be increased if there is a change in circumstances justifying the increase, such as an increase in the payer's income or the cost of living, a decrease in the custodial parent's income, or an increase in the child's needs. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if the circumstances justify the reduction.
In cases involving unmarried mothers seeking child support, the first step may be to legally establish the father's paternity of the child. The father can do this voluntarily, but if he does not the mother may need to bring a lawsuit to establish paternity, which is usually done using genetic (DNA) testing. The court will order the putative, or alleged, father to submit to the testing if he does not agree to do so voluntarily. Once paternity is established, the court will issue a child support order in a manner similar to that in a divorce situation.
When the non-custodial parent moves to another state, the custodial parent may have to rely on the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act to implement or ensure payment of child support. This Act provides the mechanisms by which a support order issued in one state can by enforced by the courts of another state.
A lawyer experienced in family law can assist a parent in obtaining an order for child support in an appropriate amount, and in enforcing the order once issued. Family law lawyers can also represent either parent in a support modification proceeding, or in one to establish or disprove paternity. Because the well being of children is at stake, child support issues are of paramount concern, and the assistance of an experienced lawyer is essential to the process.
Questionnaire: Child Support Calculation Information
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Child Support Calculation Information
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This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.
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