How Child Support Works

By Heather Frances J.D.

Child support is designed to ensure that children do not suffer financially when their parents split. When parents divorce, the divorce court establishes an amount of financial support the noncustodial parent must pay to the custodial parent. However, each state uses its own guidelines and methods to set and process these payments.

Child support is designed to ensure that children do not suffer financially when their parents split. When parents divorce, the divorce court establishes an amount of financial support the noncustodial parent must pay to the custodial parent. However, each state uses its own guidelines and methods to set and process these payments.

Percentage of Income Method

Some states calculate child support based on a straight percentage of the noncustodial parent's income. In these states, the noncustodial parent pays the same percentage no matter how much the custodial parent makes. For example, Texas courts generally set a child support amount at 20 percent of the noncustodial parent's income if there is one child, and the percentage increases as the number of children increases. Since this method does not consider factors like the custodial parent's income, it is less common than other methods of support calculation.

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Income Shares Method

A more common method of child support calculation is the income shares model, which is based on the idea that both parents should provide a portion of their incomes to support the child and that this portion should not change when the parents divorce. States that use this method and the Melson formula, which is similar to the income shares model, consider both parents' incomes when assigning a support amount. Generally, these states establish a percentage of both parents' incomes that must be paid for support, dividing that amount between the parents according to the proportion each contributes to their combined incomes. For example, if the noncustodial parent makes 30 percent of the parents' combined income, he will pay 30 percent of the total support amount set by the state.

Making Payments

Courts establish child support amounts in a court order, often as part of the divorce decree. This may be completed through an income withholding order, which requires the paying parent's employer to withhold money from the paying parent's wages. The employer then sends the money to a state agency which forwards that payment to the custodial parent. Noncustodial parents who are self-employed or unemployed have the same payment requirements but must send payments to the state agency on their own since they do not have employers to withhold the payment amounts for them.

Enforcement

State child support agencies and state courts have the authority to enforce child support orders when the noncustodial parent fails to pay support as ordered. The court that issued the order can hold the paying parent in contempt, even throwing him in jail. When the noncustodial parent refuses to pay, states can also place liens on the noncustodial parent's real estate or other property, suspend or revoke his driver's, professional or recreational licenses, seize his tax refund and bank account or intercept his government benefit payments.

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Can Both Parents Be Liable for Child Support in Idaho?

References

Related articles

Reasons to Deviate From California Guidelines for Child Support

Divorce does not relieve either parent of the obligation to financially support their children. In California, state guidelines are used to calculate a support amount according to the incomes of both parents. However, in some cases, the amount that a parent is ordered to pay is found to be inappropriately high or low. Courts have the discretion to deviate from the support formula in limited circumstances when this happens.

Child Support Guidelines in Massachusetts

Massachusetts law regarding child support is designed to ensure that divorcing parents continue to provide financial support for their children. Judges use Massachusetts’ child support guidelines to calculate a fair child support amount and then incorporate that amount into a family’s divorce decree. When circumstances change, Massachusetts permits parents to ask the court to modify their previous support order.

How Are Child Support Arrears Assessed?

Child support "arrears" are amounts that came due and, for whatever reason, weren't paid. They may consist of missed payments or come from payments awarded for a time period prior to the initial establishment of the obligation. They can also include sums for child-related expenses, such as doctor co-pays, medicine or school costs. Although child support laws vary from state to state, arrears tend to be dealt with in a similar manner across the board.

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