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Child Support FAQ

Q: How is child support determined?

A: Child support is typically based on a set of state guidelines that consider parental income. Courts will follow these guidelines when determining support, but may deviate if certain circumstances are present such as a child's medical needs.

Q: Is child support available if I never married my child's father?

A: Yes. Each parent has a duty to financially support their children. If an individual has not yet legally been identified as the father, going through the paternity process can establish this and the rights and obligations will commence.

Q: Do mothers have to pay child support when fathers have custody?

A: Yes. The child support guidelines make no distinction based on the sex of the custodial parent. Even when joint or shared custody exists, some states weigh the relative earning capacity of each parent and order support accordingly.

Q: I make more money than my ex-spouse. Am I still entitled to child support if I have custody?

A: In most cases the answer is yes, even if examination of the relative income and assets of both spouses results in the setting of a small or nominal amount. Both parents owe a duty to support their children, and this duty is not eliminated because the custodial parent has a greater income than the noncustodial parent.

Q: What measures exist to ensure that a child will receive court-ordered child support?

A: Child support laws allow you to have immediate wage withholding included in your child support order. Wage withholding, as with other payroll deductions like for insurance or taxes, are automatically subtracted from the paying parent's wages by his or her employer and paid directly to you or your state's child support registry. Wage withholding will be included in your support order unless you and your child's other parent agree otherwise or there is good cause for an exception. If wage withholding is not possible or insufficient, an experienced family law attorney or the child support enforcement office in your state will have other means available to enforce the support order.

Q: My ex-spouse says he is going to use the laws of the state he has moved to since our divorce to reduce his support obligation. Can he do that?

A: Under the terms of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), a person paying child support cannot move to a different state to get a better support order. This federal law provides continuing exclusive jurisdiction to the court that issued the original divorce decree or support order. This means that so long as the child, the parent receiving the support or the parent paying the support live in the state where the original support order was made, that original court continues to have jurisdiction over any modifications, enforcement actions or other issues arising from the support order. Thus, a parent cannot shop around for a better support order by moving out of state. Every state has adopted the UIFSA.

Q: I pay child support and was recently laid off from my job. Can I stop paying my child support until I get another job?

A: No. Courts will not allow you to decide by yourself what amount of child support you should pay, and you will be held responsible for any past due amounts that accrue through nonpayment, in addition to any interest and fines. If you are having difficulty meeting your child support obligation, you should immediately contact an experienced family law lawyer to learn how you may obtain a modification to the current order.

Q: My ex-spouse owes me a lot of back child support and is filing bankruptcy. What happens to the amount I am owed?

A: As a general rule, child support payments cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. This means that the parent who owed child support cannot escape this duty by filing for bankruptcy, and you should still be able to collect the support you are owed. However, the relationship between child support and bankruptcy is complex, and you should work with an experienced family law attorney who understands how bankruptcy law affects child support obligations.

Q: What happens when a parent paying child support under a court order has other children to support, either because of a new family or under another support order?

A: Most states allow adjustments in support obligations based upon the total support responsibilities of the paying parent. States have guidelines in place to determine how support will be shared. The creation of a second family or obligations under a support order will not eliminate the responsibility owed to the first family. Rather, if the paying parent's income will not provide for both, the amount of overall support may be reduced. Valid orders will still receive a share of the support collected.