Child Support Basics

Child support

Child support is a payment made from one parent to another parent (usually from non-custodial to custodial), to help ensure the child’s financial needs are met.

Child support is an arrangement where a non-custodial parent makes monthly payments to the child’s legal guardian.

The payments go towards the child’s needs, including food, shelter, medical services, transportation, and even entertainment. Child support usually lasts until the child turns 18 or graduates high school.

Key terms you should know

When you’re researching child support, you’ll likely see a few terms over and over again:

  • Custody. This refers to the child’s legal guardian. In some cases, two people will share custody.
    • One question often asked – is a noncustodial parent entitled to visit the child if he or she is not paying child support? Child support and visitation rights are separate issues. The court determines both and will usually order the noncustodial parent to pay child support and the custodial parent to make the child available for visits.
    • The custodial parent has a duty to obey the court order for visitation, even if the noncustodial parent cannot or will not pay child support. The court can enforce its orders against either parent.
  • Paternity. Paternity is fatherhood. If there’s any doubt about the biological father of a child, the court may order a DNA test to establish paternity. The results will play a role in determining who’s responsible for paying child support.
    • If an unmarried father is already providing support, it is still necessary to establish paternity.  Because even though the child’s father is providing support, he may change his mind, become disabled, or even die. In most cases, unmarried parents can ensure certain benefits for their children only if paternity has been established.
    • Children who are supported by only one parent often do not have enough money for even basic needs. Every child is entitled to financial support and other resources from both parents.
    • The custodial parent, the child, and the child’s doctor need to know whether the child has inherited any diseases or disorders that may not be detected at birth or in childhood. Children can receive better medical treatment if doctors know the full medical history of the family.
    • If paternity has been established, a child has a legal father and will have the possible right of inheritance from both parents. The child may also be eligible for other benefits such as Social Security, medical insurance, life insurance and veteran’s benefits.
  • Child support services. This term refers to the state or local office responsible for regulating and enforcing child support.  As the designated Title IV-D agency, the Office of the Attorney General is responsible for:
    • locating absent parents;
    • establishing paternity;
    • establishing, enforcing and modifying child and medical support orders and
    • collecting and distributing child support monies.

How child support is calculated

Each state has its child support regulations. Often, the amount depends on factors such as each parent’s income, the age of the children, and how many children are involved. You can find child support calculators online that will give you a ballpark idea of how much support you or the other parent will have to pay.

Hiring a child support lawyer

A child’s parents can reach an agreement outside of court through a mediator; however, a lawyer who knows local child support regulations can still help ensure that a case’s outcome does not place an undue burden on either of the parents.

The question “what is child support” has a simple answer, but child support cases can often become complicated. If you’re facing child support issues, hire a lawyer who can equip you for the road ahead.

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