Child support refers to the money that the noncustodial parent must pay to the custodian parent for the care and upbringing of a child after the parents separate. This serves as a parental contribution for the child’s basic living expenses, such as shelter, food, clothing, health care, and education. When a State court orders the noncustodial parent to pay child support, that parent must pay directly to the child’s custodian rather than directly to the child. States generally do not impose an obligation to pay support for a child after that child has reached the age of 18.
The State courts determine the amount of the child support that the noncustodial parent needs to pay. The amount is based on the unique circumstances of each case, including the child’s age, the particular health and educational needs of the child, and the standard of living that the child would have enjoyed if the family had continued living together. Each State may differ on how they calculate the amount of child support that is awarded. A huge factor is the net monthly income of both the custodial and noncustodial parents. Some states require that the parent to pay a set percentage of the parent’s annual salary. Some also require parents to pay a percentage of any bonuses received as well.
A parent only has a legal responsibility to support a biological or adopted child. The court cannot order an individual to pay child support for a stepchild, unless the individual formally adopted the stepchild and would therefore be responsible for care and support. Child support laws vary state by state and this particular principle applies in most states, however, it is always wise to double check the rules in the state in which the child lives.
The Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act disregards marital misconduct in determining the amount of child support obligation of the custodial parent. Factors in determining reasonableness or necessity of the child support include the child’s financial resources, the custodial parent’s financial resources, the noncustodial parent’s financial resources, the standard of living the child would have had if the marriage remained intact, the physical and emotional condition of the child and the child’s particular educational needs.
In addition to the periodic support payments, a court may order the noncustodial parent to also make contributions to future medical and dental expenses, vacation and camp expenses, and religious or private school costs. Different states have different opinions on whether a noncustodial parent owes a financial obligation to support an 18-year-old college student seeking enrollment at an institution of higher learning. Different states have different opinions on whether the death of a noncustodial parent terminates the obligation to provide child support or whether this obligation passes to the noncustodial parent’s estate. In many cases, even death does not end the obligation to pay child support
Some noncustodial parents do not comply with the mandated child support obligations. State courts take the side of the innocent child and usually help enforcement through garnishment of wages or even seizing of assets from the noncustodial parent. Some noncustodial parents disappear, making it harder to secure child support. Congress created the Federal Parent Locator Service, which permits any authorized individual to obtain and transmit information regarding a parent that is not paying child support, enabling enforcement action, including court remedies. Courts may hold the non-complying noncustodial parent in contempt of court, which may require paying the child support owed plus all attorney’s fees and court costs for both parties.