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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What Does Child Support Cover?

Child support payments are a ubiquitous feature of divorce decrees for parents of minor children. Non-custodial parents often wonder what they're paying for when they write a check for child support each month. The primary purpose of child support is not to equalize the income of the two former spouses, but rather to provide the children with the same level of economic support they would have had if their parents had remained together.

Receiving a BAH After Getting Divorced

Divorcing when you are a member of the military has its own unique set of concerns, many of them associated with the military pay system. Your right to receive a Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, can be affected by divorce, but in most cases, you'll continue to receive it. It may be adjusted to reflect your new marital status, depending on whether you have children. The computations are complex, so if you have questions, consult with an attorney familiar with both family and military law.

Do You Have to Be Divorced to Pay Child Support or Can You Be Legally Separated?

In most states, married couples ending their relationship can do so either by getting divorced or by getting a legal separation. A legal separation is similar to a divorce in that it will result in a binding court order, which outlines your rights and responsibilities. This will include all issues with respect to your children, including parenting time and child support. This means that you can be -- and likely will be -- required to pay child support, even if you are legally separated but not divorced from your partner.

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