There is a strong public interest in the United States in making sure that both parents support a child. This is why child support laws are rigidly enforced in all 50 states. Parents generally cannot waive a child’s right to child support, and parents who do not comply with a support order are subject to a host of enforcement actions and penalties. The amount of support is determined by several factors: the responsibilities of the parents, their income, the number of children, and the needs of their children. Each state has slightly different laws and calculations.
What can a Child Support Lawyer Do For You?
Getting the other parent to contribute to the child support they owe can be hard, but hiring a child support lawyer can help you figure out what you can and cannot do. People who refuse to pay child support are very common. Thus, hiring a lawyer experienced in child support issues will help you navigate the legal system and, when possible, get you the support you are owed to provide your child.
How a Child Support Attorney Can Help
Whether you’re determining child support as part of your divorce settlement or you are an unmarried parent seeking legal support, an attorney can streamline the process you. Disputes involving children and money turn to discussions of child custody and can become volatile. An attorney can objectively negotiate on your behalf to protect your child’s interest.
Child support lawyers can:
- File a petition for support and request a child support order.
- Answer a child support petition.
- Establish paternity.
- Prove income.
- Locate the other parent.
- Subpoena the other parent’s financial information.
- Determine the factors the court will look at in calculating the amount of support.
- Explain your enforcement options.
- Estimate how much support you can receive from the other parent.
- Explain the tax consequences of a child support order.
- Negotiate with the other parent to reach an agreement or represent you in court.
Parents have a legal duty to support their children. This is true of both parents even if they never marry or divorce. Often one parent ends up paying child support to the other when parents don’t live together.
You need to retain a lawyer who will look out for your best interests, as well as your child’s, if you are in a child custody case, whether you expect to pay or receive child support.
Child Support Considerations
Traditionally, men paid child support to the mother. That is still the most common situation. But today, courts recognize that giving custody to mothers is not always in a child’s best interest. Moreover, with most women in the workforce, it is becoming more common for women to pay child support to men.
Whatever your situation, it is important to understand how courts determine child support. Individual states set their own guidelines, but these are some of the most commonly considered factors:
- Parents’ incomes
- Child care costs
- The child’s individual needs
- Custody arrangements
Courts often calculate support payments as a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s net income. The percentage can change based on the number of children and the amount of time each parent spends with the child.
How Child Support Lawyers Can Help Men
A lawyer who specializes in helping men with child support issues can make sure you are treated fairly. Child support issues are not always cut and dried. As an example, in joint custody situations, neither parent often pays child support. But if one parent’s income is significantly lower compared to the other, that parent could be eligible for child support to assure the child’s expenses are covered while with either parent.
Your child support lawyer can help you navigate these situations, as well as make sure all aspects of your case are handled properly. Your attorney can:
- Ensure all income is accounted for. Most states have a broad definition of income for child support purposes. They include sources of funds ranging from salaries to gambling winnings. Some states exclude capital gains, while others include them. Your lawyer can make sure both parents’ incomes are based on the proper sources in your state.
- Ensure net income is calculated correctly. Your lawyer can make sure all the right mandatory deductions are made from your income or that your child’s mother isn’t claiming deductions she is not entitled to. Your lawyer can also ensure the court allows reasonable expenses for you, in case your state also allows deductions for basic living expenses.
- Help you get or enforce a child support order. In case your child’s mother is not paying the child support required of her, your lawyer can help you negotiate with your child’s mother or go to court.
Child support can be a tricky issue. You want to do what is best for your child without feeling taken advantage of. Having an experienced lawyer on your own side can help make that happen.
Failure to Pay Child Support
Failure to pay child support is a serious problem and state, federal and local governments actively pursue noncustodial parents who are delinquent in their own child support payments. Noncustodial parents who are obligated to pay child support ought to be aware of the actions that may be taken against them when they fail to make timely payments.
Although most non-custodial parents in regular contact with their children diligently keep up with their child support payments, many noncustodial parents, particularly those who are not involved in their children’s lives, do not make regular payments. Some non-custodial parents actively try to avoid paying any child support at all. To remedy this problem, the federal government set up the Federal Child Support Enforcement Program to ensure children reduce the number of families that require public assistance for support and have the financial support of both parents. The program operates through the state and county social services agencies that oversee the collection and distribution of payments.
Congress enacted the immediate income withholding provision that must definitely be included in all child support orders, to make sure child support is timely paid. This is also known as a wage assignment or income deduction order. In addition to wages, states must apply the withholding provision to other sources of income, including disability, pension, retirement, unemployment benefits, and workers’ compensation payments. There is an exception to the withholding provision which may be permitted for parents who agree to a different arrangement. If they can prove to the court that there’s a good reason why the provision should not be enforced, the noncustodial parent may also avoid the automatic withholding provision.
A positive feature of the withholding provision is that it provides the noncustodial parent with a record of payments so that there can be no dispute over missing payments. It is important for the non-custodial parent to check the child support statement against the record of payments to make sure the payments are properly credited. There are instances where the child support enforcement agency notifies credit -reporting agencies that an individual is delinquent in their child support payments. Fortunately, the record of payments serves as proof that the child support payments were timely paid so the individual’s credit report can be corrected expeditiously.
Obtaining a Child Support Decree
Requesting child support is a relatively straightforward process. The parent entitled to support can simply file a petition for support with the court if a family law case has already been opened. A similar filing might be submitted if the case was new, although special notice rules apply for initiating the case to ensure the court can lawfully assert jurisdiction over the other parent. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be the one to request a child support order, as that parent will need to demonstrate that he or she is actively paying support before the court grants requests pertaining to visitation or custody.
State statutes provide specific guidelines for calculating child support. To simplify the process, most states have published worksheets that allow parties to enter income and expense information to arrive at a “presumptive” monthly payment amount. This figure is said to be presumptive as it’s possible to deviate upward or downward based on unique circumstances. In the event the parties can agree on the final amount, a stipulated order might be submitted for the court’s approval. In the event the parties cannot agree, it will be necessary for a judge to hold a hearing and decide on the matter.
From a tax perspective, child support payments are a neutral event. The custodial parent need not declare the payments as income. Also, the non-custodial parent cannot deduct them as an expense. Payments are made to the court or a state child support agency. Parents that are obligated to pay support should refuse requests for direct payment by the recipient parent. There are numerous cases in which a parent didn’t receive credit for child support they paid to the other parent. Moreover, despite the fact the money ends up going to the custodial parent, support is meant to benefit the child. Informal agreements between the parents excusing missed payments will not be recognized.
Child Support Issues Can Arise
The amount of income someone earns can be disputed in child support cases. This is especially true for parents who are:
- using a significant amount of investment income
- paid by commission
- paid in cash
- whose income fluctuates, and
- paid in non-traditional ways such as through stock option