What Is Child Support – Laws & Guidelines for Payments

divorce decree moneyAccording to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), about 41% of first marriages end in divorce. For second and third marriages, that number increases to 60% and 73%, respectively.

Single parents with children should have a basic understanding of child support. Unless parental rights have been legally terminated, every parent in the U.S. must contribute financially to the raising of his or her child.

What Is Child Support?

Child support is the financial obligation you have to support your child as he or she matures. If you have custody of your child, the courts assume that you fulfill your financial obligation. If your child does not live with you, however, the courts may require that you pay child support to the custodial parent.

If the court requires that you pay child support, you will make payments until your child reaches the age of majority or adulthood, until your child is active-duty military, or until the court declares your child emancipated. If your child has special needs, you may make child support payments past childhood.

The court may legally terminate your parental rights and financial responsibilities for your child, if both you and the other parent agree that you no longer have to provide support, or if you allow someone else to adopt your child.

How Responsibility for Child Support Is Determined

Each state has its own guidelines for child support, and the judge typically determines the final amount. The discussion about child support begins with custody.

If one parent has sole custody, the non-custodial parent typically pays most of the child support. The custodial parent may be a stay-at-home mom, or a parent who works part-time in order to care for the child. The child support payments reflect the fact that the custodial parent probably doesn’t have enough financial resources to completely provide for the child.

Joint Custody Scenarios

In the case of joint custody, calculating the child support for each parent becomes more complicated. One way to determine child support in joint custody cases accounts for two factors:

  1. The percentage each parent contributed to the joint income may determine the outcome of a joint custody case. The more income one contributes, the more the person has to pay towards child support.
  2. In addition, the percentage of time each parent actually has physical custody could determine the outcome of a joint custody case. When a child lives most of the time with one parent, the court assumes that the parent with a greater amount of physical custody bears certain costs in raising the child. For example, if your child lives with you only 20% of the time, you might pay more in child support than your ex-spouse, because 80% of the time he or she devotes more physical, financial, and emotional resources.

Ultimately, no clear-cut formula for the exact amount each parent must pay exists, as it depends on factors unique to each situation.

Previously Unmarried Parents

If you were not previously married to the child’s other parent, you still owe child support, but the factors involved in determining child support can become more complicated. Factors that play into determining child support include whether or not the child ever actually lived with you, resources of the custodial parent, your income and ability to make child support payments, and how much time you spend with the child.

Children are entitled to some form of support from non-custodial parents. Stepparents do not have a legal responsibility to financially support their stepchildren, unless they adopt the children, terminating the biological parent’s legal rights and requirements as a parent.

fight couple child

How Child Support Payment Amounts Are Determined

The court determines the amounts of child support payments depending upon the parents’ income, and the amount of time each parent has physical custody of the child. Income, as identified by the court, may include:

  • Wages
  • Tips
  • Commissions
  • Bonuses
  • Self-employment earnings
  • Disability payments
  • Social Security benefits
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Annuities
  • Interest
  • Veteran’s benefits
  • Pensions
  • Private or Government Retirement benefits

Additional Factors that Affect Child Support Allocations and Payments

As you prepare for child support proceedings, it can help to become acquainted with the process in your state, so that you know what to expect. Once the court determines custody, and reviews the circumstances of your case, the court sets the amount of child support payments based on a variety of factors, including the following:

  • Income of the Parent Paying Child Support. The more a parent earns, the more he or she must provide in child support. Most courts recognize financial hardship, and understand that you need to provide for your own needs, as well as support your child.
  • Quality of Life Experienced by the Child Prior to the Parents’ Split. The court looks at the living conditions of the family prior to the split. If there was a high standard of living prior to the divorce, the parent responsible for child support may have to help the child maintain that lifestyle.
  • Expenses Associated with Raising the Child. The court also looks at reasonable expenses associated with raising the child in a particular area. If you live in a city with a higher cost of living, the costs of raising a child might be higher than the costs of living in a lower-cost, rural area. Additionally, the court may consider products and experiences associated with a specific socioeconomic status. The court takes into account the costs of food, housing, clothing, transportation, education, and entertainment.
  • Specific Needs of the Child. In some cases, a child may have special needs. If a child has physical needs due to a disability, or has a learning disorder or mental disability, the judge takes that into account when determining the child support payments.
  • Income and Other Financial Resources Available to the Custodial Parent. In addition to looking at the needs of the child and the finances of the non-custodial parent, the court also takes into account the resources available to the custodial parent. If a custodial parent has a good income and a high personal net worth, the non-custodial parent may not have to pay as much in child support. The court may also consider the custodial parent’s support system, including family members willing to help.

Changing Child Support Payment Amounts

Once child support payments are set, it takes legal action to change them. A change in circumstances may necessitate a change in child support payments.

For example, if you increase the amount of time the child is physically in your custody, the court may decrease your child support payments to reflect the change. The court may also reduce child support payments if you lose your job and become unemployed, or are forced to take a new job with lower pay.

Few judges reduce child support payments if you quit your job to pursue a hobby, or go back to school. Getting laid off is typically viewed differently than voluntarily leaving your job, especially if appears as though you quit your job to avoid having to pay child support.

You may get temporary changes to your child support payments. If an emergency strikes, or if you have some short-term financial problems, the court may temporarily decrease your child support payments. Additionally, if the custodial parent experiences financial difficulties, the non-custodial parent might see a temporary increase in child support payments. Even if both parents agree on changes to child support payments, both parents have to go to court in order to have the amount legally changed.

split money couple

Consequences of Not Paying Child Support

The court sets the amount of child support and the payment schedule. Some of the potential consequences of refusing to pay required child support payments include:

  • Property seizure
  • Suspension of your business license
  • Suspension of your driver’s license
  • Tax refund interception
  • Wage garnishment
  • Arrest and time in jail

If circumstances make it difficult for you to pay child support as ordered, you need to let the court know as soon as possible. Don’t let the problem get out of control. Be upfront and honest about your hardship.

Separating Visitation and Child Support

In addition, parents cannot respond to visitation disagreements by threatening to withhold child support payments. If the custodial parent does not allow you to see your child as ordered by the court, do not make the mistake of retaliating by withholding child support payments. Refusing to submit child support payment is illegal, and this hurts your child more than the other parent.

The courts separate visitation and child support. If you do not receive your visitation rights, you need to go to the court with your evidence, and have the custody agreement enforced. Keep paying support as required, to avoid the consequences of withholding child support payments.

What If the Non-Custodial Parent Isn’t Paying What’s Owed?

If you are the custodial parent, and the non-custodial parent doesn’t pay child support, contact your state attorney or district attorney. According to federal law, state agencies must help you collect delinquent child support payments. Many states have Recovery Services offices, designed to help you track down delinquent parents, and recover the child support payments owed to you.

Keep records of the last payments received and copies of the court documents establishing the child support payments and schedule. With this information, you can get the help you need to collect unpaid child support.

Child Support and Taxes

You don’t have to pay income taxes on child support that you receive on behalf of your children. If you pay child support, you cannot deduct it from your income.

Who Gets to Claim the Child as a Dependent?

The parent who can claim the child as a dependent can receive a significant tax deduction. Typically, the parent with whom the child lives for more than half the year claims the child as a dependent. Only one parent can claim a dependent on a tax return; both parents cannot claim the same dependent.

In cases where the parents disagree, it helps to have knowledgeable tax attorneys involved. Even if both parents agree which parent can claim the child as a dependent, it can help to have a tax attorney work out the details of the tax deduction.

Transferring the Dependent Tax Exemption

In some cases, the non-custodial parent can receive the exemption for a dependent. If the custodial parent completes and signs Form 8332, he or she can transfer the exemption. The form should be filed with the non-custodial parent’s tax return.

A low-income custodial parent, who may not benefit from this exemption, might choose to sign this form. If the non-custodial parent has a higher adjusted gross income (AGI), and can benefit more from the deduction than the custodial parent, he or she can offer something in return for the tax deduction. Some parents use this dependent exemption as a bargaining chip in child support agreements and divorce settlement negotiations.

If there are multiple children, parents can arrange to allocate the dependents between the two parties. Check with attorneys to try and work out a situation that offers the most benefit to everyone involved. Parents can often come to an equitable agreement in this situation, especially if the parents are in two different income tax brackets.

Final Word

The law requires that all parents have a financial obligation to their children. If your child isn’t living with you, you are required to make child support payments, unless the custodial parent waives that right, or your parental rights are legally terminated. If you fail in this duty, your finances can be affected, and you could end up in jail.

If you are the custodial parent, you should ensure that you receive your legally granted child support from the other parent. This helps ease the financial burden associated with raising a child who lives with you most of the time. Make sure you understand the child support laws and procedures in your state, and make sure you keep records of payments made or received, to ensure the child support agreement is enforced.

Have you had experiences paying or receiving child support? What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced?

  • Croman65

    can a parent be held in contempt of court for not paying the full amount of monthly child support

    • Jennifer


  • Robb

    If a child drops out of regular public school and is attending an on-line school that is not a public on-line school but a school that offers a GED / Diploma for the child and the child will soon turn 18 does the non-custodial parent have to continue paying child support?

    • Jennifer

      You are required to pay child support until the child finishes school. Even if they have already turned 18.

      • Mar

        Hi Jennifer. Wanted to ask you, if child is found to have some anger management issues, is that considered for child support to continue beyond 18 year of age? thanks for you input! :)

        • Jennifer

          No. Unless the child has been deemed legally disabled and unable to work you wont have to continue to pay. Even then there is a cut off point.

  • janedoe

    Can a parent have his child support reduced due to new relationship/child, wherein the new girlfriend held a job for 17 years and has now decided to stay at home with their child? Is this a legal hardship claim? He has bought 2 new vehicles, etc…I don’t see the hardship?

    • Joejoegee

      I want to know

    • Jennifer

      Yes. Not because of the girlfriend but because he has a new child. Not necessarily a hardship claim but he now has another mouth to feed so the amount he was paying for child A may be reduced.

  • Abbigale

    If the father does not have a job can someone pay his child support for him until he gets one

    • Jennifer


  • Fukumata59

    While in a Juvenile Dependency Case. Even though the Mother had a Drug problem and attempted to assault Dad with a 10″ Chef’s knife. C.F.S. still awarded Physical Custody to the Mentally ill Mother. It seems that single Dad’s have no rights to there Children, even though Dad is listed on Child’s Birth Certificate. As well as a Voulentary Declaration of Paternity was filled out at Birth, and filed with Dept of Child Support as required. So while you sit with the title of ASSUMED FATHER, Who has absolutly No Rights to there Daughter. Being Helpless as the almighty C.F.S. forces your 3 year old Daughter to accompany her Mother into a 90 day Adult Drug Rehab. 4 days before the Courts receive the required documents that now makes you the PRESUMED FATHER. Who now has rights to his Child. Only taking the Juvenile Court system 30 days to aquire those required documents giving this Poor Chump the right to pay support. The Mother having not worked for the previous 3 years. Didnt have time to look for work but had enough time to check the going rate on a Child Support Order. 4 different times while living in Dad’s house. Hey but not only a Drug problem, Mom has an ANGER MANAGMENT ISSUE. That comes out in Rehab. This ends up causing Mom to be removed from the program and a transfer of primary caregiver/physical Custody. So now the once anti male C.F.S. flip flops and asks the Courts to grant Dad 100% physical custody. Now it is my understanding that the Courts should have notified the Dept of Child Support about the Custody Change. DON’T COUNT ON IT!! 2 years later, back in a Dependency case because I allowed the Mom to move back in once she was put on anti psychotics. The Judge Never put restrictions on Living together once C.F.S. Abruptly vacated there participation in the case. So now the Brilliant Masterminds at C.F.S. has placed my Daughter with the Creature of the Nightmare Mother. Yes Grandma!!!! This is the Emergency Fostercare provider. THIS GRANDMOTHER WHO SHOULD HAVE NEVER HAD BABIES IS THE QUEEN OF VERBAL, EMOTIONAL, AND MENTAL ABUSE TO TODDLERS AND INFANTS. SHE HAS PROTECTED HER OWN DAUGHTER neglecting to report a Drug relapse. Failer to keep on her Meds, and saving her from arrest more times then I can remember. PLACING OTHERS SAFETY AT HUGE RISK! As Family C.F.S. say’s they expect Family to absorb the cost of assistance to support my Daughter. So instead of asking me for money Grandma needed. The Grandmother uses her Fostercare statis and files for Child Support. USING THE OPEN SUPPORT ORDER THAT WAS NEVER CLOSED WHEN I GAINED CUSTODY. NOT ONLY THAT, IN THE SUPPORT ORDER THERE IS A STIPULATION ABOUT SPLITTING THE COST OF PRE SCHOOL OR DAYCARE. So what does a caring Grandmother do. Pulled my Daughter out of school so her own Daughter would not be liable for any support. This Women is currently collecting back support from the social security of her DEAD EX HUSBAND!! SHE HAS COLLECTED UNEMPLOYMENT FOR 3 YEARS WHILE SHE RAN A CHILDCARE BUSINESS OUT OF HER HOME. SO HOW DO YOU REPORT SOMEONE LIKE THAT? C.F.S. WON’T LISTEN. THESE IDIOTS ARE ACTUALLY CONSIDERING GIVING BACK CUSTODY TO THE PERSON I’M in trouble for letting back into the house? W.T.F. IS WRONG with that picture. But then I can pay both Mother because she will quit her job they have made her get and Grandmother to provide Daycare. I know this because I watched the mother research this on the web.

  • Christina

    What if you just married someone who has a child with a former girlfriend? Does his spouse have to pay HIS child support?

    • Jennifer

      Sometimes. If you file taxes together (unless you file a specific form which i cant remember its name for the life of me) your return may be garnished to pay backpay that he owes.

  • Laura

    What if legal custody was never done? Is the step parent responsible for care of the child that lives within their home but legal paperwork was never done and the he is married to the non custodial parent?

  • concerned mom

    if a child at 17 moves out from the primary parents home does the noncustodial parent keep paying the custodial parent when it should be paid to the child?

    • Tonya Born

      I agree with this statement having same problem as we speak i personally think the parent should be able to stop paying the money after all is for the child not the other parent and in my case my husband is paying her bills and hes not even living with her its not right

    • Jennifer

      You must keep paying unless chold was legally emancipated.

  • Josh Cowger

    If I owe child support from a previous relationship and now in new relationship and have a son with my fiance if I claim my son will they take it to pay towards my child from previous relationship? Just would like to find out or if someone can direct me to someone who can help me with this thank you

    • b

      Yes they can take it and use it towards your back child support

  • Laila

    My husband and I have lived apart for 14 months. He had no income, wont be filing a tax return this year, so I qualified to receive an exemption for him. I filed HOH and his ssn did appear on my paperwork. He does however owes back child support, will they take my refund to pay towards his debt?

  • Concernmother

    What will happen if me n my son dad file him he has ben paying child support for my 3 yr old but I just had his other son last June. I told him I didn’t want him too dat i was filing him he said since he paying child support dat he have the right too.

    • Jennifer

      You will both be audited. That is considered fraud.

  • Shannon Renee

    What if you went threw a mediator and it was agreed that one party did not have to pay but then child support comes after you anyways?

  • mami

    What if custodial parent doesn’t work and is on government assistance? Does the non custodial pay more Child support as I am in California.

  • Brandon

    The biggest challenges I’ve have faced regarding paying child support is having the mother use the money for the right reasons. She uses it as spousal support, as well as child support. There is now law enforcing how the money should be used to benefit the child as much as possible. This is a lose lose situation for the payee and most importantly the child!

  • [email protected]

    My ex husband was ordered to pay child support plus arrears…he claims he is responsible for an adoptive child who receives disability SSI the adoption was also a subsided adoption…the judge gave home credit for this child ..which reduced his cs payment for his biological children…help. plz.jluie.

  • marcus

    My daughter is twenty four lives by Her self is it legal for her mother to keep the child support money

    • Jennifer

      You should have stopped paying years ago.

  • mike c

    my son has moved out of the home and living on campus for the first two years. he is 18. do i have to pay mom support? colorado

  • Jessica

    My husband has twin girls 18 years old one that lives at home going to school and one lives out of state with boyfriend taking classes on line to finish school the court ordered the father to pay child support on child that lives out of state what should we do

  • Tiffany

    My fiance has been paying child support for his two kids although they have lived with us for the last year. They are registered to school from our address the mother contributes nothing and although she receives government benefits for them they have no healthcare. We are in Ga and when we called they said we need a lawyer which is something we can’t afford… Any suggestions?

  • Sam

    do I have to pay child support for my 2 kids if my ex gets married and her new spouse claims my kids as dependents? I live in Ca

  • Mar

    Do I have to continue paying child support for my kid after 18 years of age, if found he has anger management type issues?

    • JJLL

      I’m not a lawyer, but anger management is not a disability

  • Kimberly Yule

    My ex has not payed his child support in years and owes quite a large amount why is he not paying interest on this money owing and he should not have the option of payments he already had payments that he choose not to pay and now he wants payments for arrears. He should be made to pay in full with interest if you ask me.

  • jake

    ijust have a question for a friend of mine he got divroced and paid lum sum child support to his wife now he remarried with the same women again and things are going well again does he has to pay child support again if he gets divroced.

  • Ashhole

    Will i receive part of the non custodial parent income tax return even if he’s up to date? Or does he get to keep all the money to himself?

  • C

    I will starting a new job in a few days do i have to notify the courts of my new job or just keep paying over the phone for my child support can i go to jail for not notifying them changes of job

  • RD

    My husband has full sole custody of his 17 year old son since he was 5. His son now wants to move to live with his mom in Michigan (we live in NY) He will be a junior in high school this year. She has been in arrears for child support from the beginning. Anyway, will we now have to pay her child support?

  • Taryn

    If my mother has temp custody of my child do I have to pay her child support?

  • Agson

    Hi ya , my husband got two children from previous relationship, now we have a baby , how much money (%) he has to pay for each child from his previous relationship?( he was paying 10% for each child before we had a baby

  • TRiley

    My expirence with receiving childsupport: the government only cares if you are on assistance. If you are not on welfare you are pretty much on your own and you can only hope that the NCP pays. If he doesn’t your only option is to hire an outside agency to collect and they will take 55% of what is owed to you. They states are not doing their job. They do not follow their own policies and procedures and have gotten really good at CYA. It’s very u fortunate. My daughter is now over 18 so the child support becomes arrears and it’s even harder to get what is owed to me. A NCP (non custodial parent) can be a deadbeat and get away with not paying child support. That is why mine owes me 23k. That is how people are owned thousands and thousands of dollars. There is no accountability for the state to the custodial parent(CP). From the NCP to the CP. and from the NCP to the state. There is a huge breakdown that has not been addressed. How about our presidential candidates stop acting like children and start talking about issues that really matter.

    • frustrated

      I agree! I have been going through the child support system in FL and AL (ncp), for around 15 years. I have been trying to get arrears, over $32,000! The ncp has his own business in AL and I can’t get anything out of him. I am exhausted and discouraged with the child support system! It really sucks that you have to be on welfare…before they will really help! But, I am not giving up! I deserve the little money that he was ordered to pay!!

  • Dustin

    Me and my girlfriend are getting a marriage license soon now…. Even though her ex pays child support does it come to me even though were just wanting to get the license and do we have to get married in 30 days or can we make it expire then go again.

  • Grama

    I’m curious and because I’m stuck in between my daughter and her ex he tells me that he is going to work part-time and do side jobs Roofing and painting houses but the thing is he had a full-time job and he quit it so my question is because my daughter makes quite a bit of money where she works and what upsets me is that he goes and quits his full-time job where he was making more money than her and goes part-time and the way I see it is because he does not want to pay child support is that right or wrong