Child Support Legal Information

OVERVIEW

Child support lawyers handle all the legal proceedings related to court-ordered financial payments that support a minor child. Child support is ordered most often during divorces, but could be ordered in a paternity dispute. Child support lawyers help parents:

  • Secure support payments that are fair and adequate.
  • Change child support orders when necessary.
  • Compel a non-paying spouse to pay child support.
  • Fight the legal penalties for child support violations.


“WHO MUST PAY CHILD SUPPORT?”

If a court has ordered you to pay child support, and has not modified the order since, you must pay child support. A court may order you to pay child support if:

  • You are the child’s biological parent.
  • You are an adoptive parent.
  • You’re a father who has acknowledged paternity of a child.
  • You’re a father who has established paternity with a genetic test.

Generally, the parent with the bigger income will be asked to pay child support to a parent with a smaller income, or who spends most of the time with the children. Both men and women can be asked to pay child support. Child support ends when the child reaches majority (usually age 18), joins the military, marries, is adopted or is legally emancipated from the parents.

You must pay child support even if you never married the other parent, even if you believe the other parent already has enough money, and even if the other parent is not allowing your legally required visitation. If you are being asked to support your biological child, but believe the child is not yours, you can ask the court to conduct paternity tests. If the tests show you are not the father, you will not have to pay child support.


“HOW IS CHILD SUPPORT DETERMINED?”

Most U.S. courts apply a formula to determine which parent should pay child support to the other. These formulas take into account:

  • Both parents’ incomes.
  • Both parents’ expenses, including taxes, health care and other legal financial obligations.
  • Which parent the child will live with most of the time.
  • The child’s financial needs.

Some courts will also take into account circumstances like parents’ earning potential and how the child lived before the divorce. A child support lawyer can help parents present their financial information to a court in the most complete and advantageous way. If you don’t like the court’s support order, you and your child support lawyer may also be able to appeal it to a higher court.

 

“WHAT COSTS SHOULD CHILD SUPPORT BE USED TO PAY?”

Child support payments are intended to benefit the child. They should pay for basic needs like food, clothes, shelter and medical care; toys and extracurricular activities; education; child care; and other costs that are reasonably necessary. If you believe your child support payments are being misused, you should talk to your child support lawyer about changing the child support order, or having the other parent held in contempt of court.


“WHAT CAN I DO IF I CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY MY CHILD SUPPORT?”

If you truly can’t afford your child support payments, you can petition the court to modify the child support order. Courts allow you to change your child support orders because they understand that circumstances can change. But the court will want to see evidence of a change in circumstances that could justify the modification, such as:

  • You’ve lost your job or taken one that pays much less.
  • You have a temporary financial emergency (like an accident that caused high medical bills).
  • The other parent has significantly more income than before, due to a job change or remarriage.
  • The children need less money than they did when the original order was made.

If there was no change, but you felt pressured or didn’t understand the original order, you may still be able to ask a court to change it. You should speak to a child support lawyer for help. In either case, you will probably have to submit all of your financial information to the court, and you may have to appear at a hearing.


“WHAT CAN I DO IF I AM NOT GETTING ALL THE SUPPORT I AM ENTITLED TO?”

If you can, talk to the other parent (or his or her lawyer) before pursuing legal action. He or she may misunderstand the child support order, or have financial problems that make it hard to meet payments. If that’s the case, you may be able to come to an agreement without legal action, or modify the court order for child support to make the payments affordable.

If the other parent can’t or won’t talk to you, you can take legal action. In all states, you can ask the court to hold the other parent in contempt of court, with help from your child support lawyer. This is usually the fastest way to get the payments that are owed to you. Each missed payment can earn a contempt-of-court order from the judge, so a parent who has missed many payments may spend quite a lot of time in jail.

Most areas also have a child support enforcement office to help parents pursue their unpaid child support. These offices usually have the power to suspend a non-paying parent’s driver’s license, and take part of his or her wages and property to pay off the child support debt. A child support lawyer can help you navigate that bureaucracy and understand which options are best in your situation. Above all, do not deny visitation because of unpaid child support -- you are not allowed to do this, and it could get you in trouble.



“WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR NOT PAYING CHILD SUPPORT?”

States have cracked down hard on parents who don’t pay child support, allowing many civil penalties and even a few criminal penalties. To punish a “deadbeat parent,” a court can:

  • Hold the parent in contempt of court.
  • Garnish the parent’s wages or benefits payments.
  • Put a lien (a legal obligation to pay) on any property the parent owns.
  • Enter a legal judgment, like the verdict in a lawsuit, against the parent.
  • Seize the parent’s tax refunds.
  • Revoke the parent’s driver’s license or passport.
  • If the parent crosses state lines while owing more than $5,000, have him or her criminally charged.

If you’re facing these penalties or others for not paying child support, a child support lawyer can help. Very often, child support goes unpaid because the parent simply doesn’t have enough money to pay it.



“DO I NEED A LAWYER TO HELP WITH MY CHILD SUPPORT MATTER?”

Even if you are a lawyer, you will need a lawyer for child support issues. Child support law is complicated and controversial. It involves financial information about at least two people, which can be complex and difficult to understand. It can also be very emotional, which means you can benefit from the advice of someone who’s not involved.

A child support lawyer is an expert guide to your rights and responsibilities under child support laws. He or she can advise you on how to avoid the common problems of child support disputes, and protect your interests in court. If you’re accused of withholding child support or visitation, it’s especially important to have this type of advocate by your side.


PAYMENT

Child support lawyers are usually paid by the hour. Their hourly rates will depend on where they are in the country and what kind of work you need them to do. A few child support lawyers charge flat fees for their services, especially simpler services. All child support lawyers should offer free or low-cost initial consultations to potential clients.