Child Support

Providing for your child after divorce

Divorce is never a pleasant experience, and a divorce involving children is even less so. Issues of custody and child support are often an outlet for parents' feelings of anger and bitterness toward one another.

Bitterness aside, most states have taken steps to standardize child support guidelines in divorce proceedings. Child support law is frequently found in a state's family code or a similarly named area of the state code. For guidance on a state's specific child support laws, parents should always consult a local certified attorney specializing in family law. However, the following covers the basics of child support payments.

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First, parents pay child support to support children, not the former spouse. While a parent ordered to pay support for a child may feel the money will benefit the former spouse, the court will not share this point of view. It is best as a noncustodial parent to think of child support as paying your children as much as possible. Most states use a set percentage of a noncustodial parent's net income, based on the number of children involved in the suit.

Family courts, depending on the state, take a number of factors into consideration to make adjustments to the percentage when it is in the best interest of the child. For example, child support may be increased if there are unique school or medical care needs for the child to maintain a standard of living comparable to before the divorce. On the other hand, the percentage may be decreased based on the noncustodial parent's contribution to primary child health insurance, travel expenses to exercise visitation, or support of other children not subject to the suit.

Once a court order for child support is rendered, there are a few options for payments. Many states now have a Department of Child Support Services. Child Support Services acts as a neutral check clearing house, documents all payments and provides child support enforcement for claims of nonpayment. Another name for this state organization is the Child Support Agency. Large employers may not garnish pay or set up allotments unless a formal request comes from a state Child Support Agency on behalf of the child support recipient.

Failure to pay child support is not an effective way of getting back at a former spouse. When multiple months of payments are owed, a report can be filed with the appropriate state's Child Support Services. This report may result in a child support collection action. A collection can garnish wages, impact tax returns and show up on an employer's background check. The electronic age of information is making child support enforcement easier nationwide, and it is proving more difficult for parents ordered to pay child support to hide resources from former spouses.

One myth about child support is its relationship to visitation. The only appropriate time one has anything to do with the other is when a court takes into account a parent's time with a child in order to determine a child support payment. Noncustodial parents barred from court-ordered visitation by a custodial parent may not stop child support payments at their whim. Issues concerning visitation and access to a child must be handled through a lawyer or family court. In extreme cases, parents may be court ordered to pay child support without any visitation rights to a child, especially if a child is taken into state custody.

All child support proceedings are for the best interests of the children involved in a divorce suit. While states have made great strides in standardizing calculation formulas and providing outlets for formal reports of nonpayment, it is up to parents to make child support a stress-free situation. Each divorce is different in terms of assets, situation and willingness of the parents to cooperate. The best child support payment arrangements come from cooperation and compromise between parents rather than from the restrictions imposed by a judge with minor familiarity of the parties involved.

By Elizabeth Ann West