Why Does a Parent That Doesn't Have Custody Have to Pay Child Support?

By Beverly Bird

Just as you support your children financially while you're married, you must continue to do so when you divorce. The major difference is that if you divorce, the government keeps a watchful eye on whether you're paying – at least if you're the non-custodial parent. Child support is designed to ensure that your children enjoy the same standard of living as they would have enjoyed if you and your spouse didn't break up.

What Support Covers

Child support contributes to the costs of your children's basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter. Depending on where you live, the court may expect it to pay for other things as well. For example, in California, it can cover things like toys, recreation and lessons. The logic is that because your children would have had these things if you had stayed married, you should contribute to them after your divorce.

Custodial Parent's Contribution

It's a misconception that custodial parents don't pay support. If your spouse has physical custody, she'll use her income toward the mortgage, utilities, groceries, and your children's other needs. Your child support payments contribute and defray some of these expenses. Your spouse pays her share directly to your children's needs.

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Effect of Joint Custody

If the court awards you joint physical custody, this may cut down on your child support obligation. That's because most courts consider that both you and your spouse are paying for your children's needs directly when they're with each of you. If you earn considerably more than your spouse, you might have a small child support obligation, designed so your children can enjoy the same standard of living in both homes.

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Can You Share Custody Without Child Support?


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Child Support Questions & Answers

When parents of minor children divorce, one certainty is that their decree or judgment includes provisions for child support. It explains who pays what to whom, and how much. It should detail when support ends, but it may still leave a lot of questions unanswered. The finer details usually depend on where you live and your state's laws.

Can Two People Live Together During a Divorce?

The scenario of a husband and wife living in separate households as they battle out a divorce happens mostly in movies. No law says that when a spouse files for divorce, the other must immediately move out. Your combined incomes might not be enough to financially sustain two households. You usually can’t leave and take your children with you without a custody order, which might not happen until you have a divorce decree. There are many reasons why divorcing spouses might choose to stay together in the marital home, and it's legal. However, some practical considerations exist.

Can You Owe Child Support After a Child Is 21?

Nothing about divorce is ever totally black-and-white, including child support. Under most circumstances, you won't have to pay support if your children are over the age of 21. But exceptions exist to every rule, so it's possible that you might end up paying for a short while after your child's 21st birthday -- or even indefinitely.

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