What is Child Support?

What is it?

Parents have a legal responsibility to support their children financially.  Each parent is responsible for providing for the financial needs of his or her child according to his or her ability. They have this duty even when they separate or divorce. Parents should think about child support as soon as they separate.  While all the other long-term details of the separation and divorce get worked out, children still need a regular routine. They need to be fed, housed and clothed.

When parents separate, a parent must ask the court to make an order for child support. The court cannot enforce the other parent’s duty to support the child (ren) until it makes an order for support.  In order to make a court order for support, the court will first have to determine parentage.  If the parents were married when the child was conceived, the court may be able to skip directly to the child support issue. Also, if the parents have executed a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage form after the birth of the child, the court generally will not need to deal with the parentage issue as that form legally establishes the parentage of the child.

In making an order for support, the court will determine each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs based upon their financial circumstances. The court will use a child support guideline formula to determine which parent will pay support and how much that support will be.  How you do this depends on whether you already have a family court case (or one with the local child support agency) or you are starting a case for the first time. Find out more on how to ask for child support in 1 of these types of court cases. Either parent can later ask the judge to change the support amount if the situation changes. Find out more about changing a child support order.

In addition to this basic child support, the court may require the paying parent to pay additional support to contribute money towards special expenses for the children. If there is child care cost to enable the parent(s) to work or get employment training or there are any uninsured health care costs for the children, the court must divide this cost among the parents. The court can decide if the parents should share additional costs related to the child (rens) education, other special needs or travel expenses for visitation. Child support payments are usually made until children turn 18 (or 19 if they are still in high school full time, living at home, and cannot support themselves).

Why is there child support?

Children have the legal right to receive financial support from both of their parents because it is in the children’s best interests. When both parents contribute to their children’s expenses, the children’s living conditions are better than if only one parent provides support.

Child support is the right of every child. It is not the right of either parent. A parent cannot agree to “give up” receiving child support just because they don’t want to deal with the other parent. When parents separate, the law says they are both responsible for the costs of raising their children. This is the case even if a parent has never lived with the children or the other parent.

Child support is not the same as spousal support. Child support is money paid for the benefit of the child – not the parent who receives the child support payment. Child support is not a fee that is paid in exchange for spending time with the children. Whatever the parenting arrangements may be, children have the right to receive child support.

The next section explains how you calculate the amount of child support.