Child support generally refers to payment from a non-custodial parent to the custodial parent of a child after the child’s birth or following a divorce. Child support covers a child’s expenses and can be used to pay for basic necessities or other costs associated with the child’s education, recreation or child care.

How will the child support amount be determined?

Child support calculations vary by state, but each state has established guidelines that generally include the needs of the child, the child’s current standard of living, the amount of time the child lives with each parent, the ability of the paying parent to pay, and the parent’s income.

The court will ask each parent to complete a financial statement that details monthly expenses. In some states, the judge will have considerable flexibility in establishing payment guidelines. In other states, however, the judge will have to follow the statutes more closely.

For example, in the state of Texas, child support is calculated from the non-custodial parent’s net monthly income. After calculating the non-custodial parent’s net monthly income, money paid for social security taxes, state and federal income taxes, union dues, and other outlined expenses are deducted. Net income is then divided by 12 to get the monthly net income. Texas state guidelines then require the non-custodial parent to pay 20% of their net resources for one child, 25% for two children, and 30% for three children.

Will there be add-on child support expenses?

Although state laws vary, many states do allow additional child support for certain costs including costs related to the special needs of the child, visitation, uninsured health care costs, educational costs, and child care costs.

Due to the complexities and variations in state laws, it is best to speak directly with an attorney in your state for more information about calculating your child support payments.

How can I spend child support?

Although there are specific guidelines that determine how much child support will be paid, there are no statutes that dictate how the money must be spent. In fact, although the assumption is that the child’s basic needs will be covered, in some states it may be possible for the parent receiving child support to receive a sufficient income to maintain the child's lifestyle and, in rare cases, avoid working outside of the home.

With the lack of oversight, some parents complain that there are abuses in the system, and judges should have more power to dictate how child support payments should be spent.

What if I do not pay my child support?

Parents who do not make the required child support payments, as outlined in their child support order, can suffer a wide variety of consequences. In fact, the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 allows the district attorneys to take any of the following actions:

  • Garnish the wages of the non-paying parent
  • Repossess property of the non-paying parent
  • Suspend the business license of the non-paying parent
  • Suspend the driver's license of the non-paying parent
  • Withhold federal tax refunds
  • Withhold payment of disability benefits (SSDI)
  • Refuse to issue a passport (if payment owed exceeds $2,500)

If you fail to make payments, the court may also hold you in contempt of court and take you to jail. However, given that jail time eliminates your ability to earn a wage, the court uses this option as a last resort for non-payment.

Can I modify my child support order?

Courts recognize that situations may arise that make it necessary to increase or decrease a child support order. The modification order, however, will only be approved if you can prove that there has been a substantial change in your financial situation.

For example, the custodial parent may request an increase in child support if their child has a medical need or high educational expenses. The non-custodial parent may also request a decrease in child support payments if they have lost their job, have become disabled, or if the custodial parent has had a substantial increase in their income.

Modification requests should be made through the court, and may require a hearing if there is a disagreement about the request. Consider that even if you and your spouse agree independently and do not think you need to formalize the agreement, it is always a good idea to submit the new agreement to the court.

When does child support stop?

Child support laws for your state will regulate when you may stop making child support payments. States use the term "age of majority" to determine when a child is no longer a minor, but this age can vary by state.

For example, some states terminate child support at 18, 19 or when the child graduates from high school. Other states, such as the District of Columbia, allow child support to be terminated at age 19 or at the point that the minor is self-supporting through marriage, employment or military service.