Financially supporting a child is a significant legal responsibility for any two parents, no matter their relationship status. Child support is a way of ensuring that each parent’s financial share of raising the child is fair and equitable.
The purpose of child support—a series of ongoing, regular payments by one parent to the other for the benefit of the child—is to maintain a consistent standard of living for the child regardless of which parent has primary custody of the child. Both parents are supposed to contribute to the best of their ability until the child becomes an adult.
How Much Child Support You’ll Get
Every state has guidelines for determining child support. For example, in some states, courts determine the amount of support a parent should pay by simply using a percentage of the parent’s income. Other states’ calculations are more complicated. For example, some states evaluate each parent’s income and expenses, the amount of time each parent spends with the child, and the number of children that the parents are legally obligated to support.
What to Do When You Agree With Your Spouse on Child Support
When parents agree they are both legally responsible for a child and are willing to work together, they can often formulate their own plan for child support. Most states have approved child support calculators online that parents can easily access to determine the right amount.
Zero Support Agreements
Note that because child support is considered to belong to the child, a court or child support agency typically won’t approve an agreement for zero support unless there are extraordinary circumstances. A judge won’t, for example, okay any agreement where child support was used as a bargaining chip, as where one parent agrees to waive child support in exchange for the other parent agreeing to a certain custody arrangement. On the other hand, if, for example, one parent is medically unable to work and as a result can’t provide any financial support, the court might find this to be a good reason to approve an agreement for zero support.
Using Mediation for Child Support
If you and the other parent are trying to work out child support but can’t agree on a final number, child support mediation might help. In child support mediation, a neutral third party guides the parents through a discussion of the child support guidelines and how they apply to the parents’ situation.
If mediation is successful, meaning that the parents come to an agreement, the mediator will create a written child support agreement. If you’re unable to resolve support after attempting mediation, you can file a request for child support as discussed in this article.
Finalizing Your Child Support Agreement
Whether you negotiate on your own or get help from a mediator, after you and the other parent agree, you’ll need to present the final child support agreement to the court or the state child support agency for approval. Once the agreement is approved, it will be converted into an order to make matters formal. Don’t neglect to have the agreement entered as an order: Even though you might be on good terms now, making it official is the only way to ensure both parents continue to comply should the relationship turn sour.
How Do I Apply for Child Support?
The process for applying for child support depends on whether you were ever married to your co-parent.
Who Will Decide Child Support in Your Situation—a Court or an Agency?
When you’re divorcing the other parent, a state court will make child support decisions as part of the divorce. When you’re not married to the other parent, though, child support orders and enforcement can be handled by the state courts, a state agency, or both.
How to Apply for Child Support When You’re Getting Divorced
If you are getting a divorce from your co-parent, you’ll need to ask the court to evaluate support in your divorce petition (request). Here’s how that process usually goes.
1. Separate From Your Spouse
Two married parents generally can’t file for child support unless they are living in separate households. Living apart probably won’t be an issue once the divorce is finalized, but not all couples live separately while a divorce is pending. If that’s your situation and you need child support before the court finalizes your divorce, you can file an Order to Show Cause—a document in which you ask for temporary child support and require your spouse to explain to the court any reasons why the request shouldn’t be granted (“show cause”). (Note that some states require parents to “live separately and apart” for a period before filing for divorce.)
2. Request Child Support in Your Divorce Petition
Many states provide different divorce petition forms based on whether you have children. For example, in Utah, the form for a divorcing couple with children has an entire section dedicated to child support. If your state uses the same petition forms for couples with and without children, you’ll need to include a request for child support with your petition. The information you’ll have to provide includes names, birth dates, and addresses for the children.
3. Provide Financial Information to the Court
During your divorce, the court will ask both parents to submit financial information, including:
• Childcare expenses
• Retirement account information, and
• Tax returns.
If you support other biological or adopted children, the court will need to know information about those children, too. The court will evaluate the information you provide in light of how you and your spouse are dividing custody.
4. Appear in Court if Necessary
Many courts require the spouses to appear at a hearing before finalizing the divorce. Depending on your divorce court’s procedures, the court might address child support at this hearing, or might require you to attend a separate child support hearing. In some states, courts determine the amount of support a parent should pay by simply using a percentage of the parent’s income. Other states’ calculations are more complicated.
How to Apply for Child Support When You Aren’t Married
If you never married your child’s other parent or got divorced without a child support order in place, you’ll need to apply for a support order. Each state has its own procedures for applying for child support in this kind of situation. For example, in some states you might have the option of applying directly to a state agency while in others you might have to get a court order for support. Your state’s child support enforcement program is the best source of information about how to apply.
Step 1: Open the Case
Either parent can open a child support case, as can a child’s legal guardian. Having an order from a judge for child support to be paid does not automatically open a child support case. After an application is submitted, the applicant will be contacted by their local office to assist with the process of obtaining a child support order with the court.
Step 2: Locate the Parents
Before a child support order can be made, both parents of the child need to be located. There is no guarantee they will be found, but the more information you have, such as the parent’s date of birth and Social Security Number, the easier it will be.
Step 3: File a Summons & Complaint
After the case is opened, the parent being asked to pay child support will be given a Summons and Complaint packet. This is legal notification that you have been named in a child support case. ] You only have 30 days to respond, or a “default” child support order may be ordered by the judge without your financial situation being considered.
Step 4: Establish Legal Parentage
If you have been served with a Summons and Complaint, and you do not believe you are legally responsible for the child or children you are being asked to pay child support for, you have the right to request proof. This is either DNA testing to determine parentage (which is more than 99% accurate), or proof that the parents were legally married at the time of the child’s birth. If you do not request proof, you can still be assigned legal parentage without your consent.
Step 5: Create a “Stipulated Agreement”
If you would like to avoid going to court, some local agencies offer “Family Meetings” that allow both individuals to meet with a child support caseworker, either together or separately. If both parents can agree on an amount, their signed document becomes the “Stipulated Agreement,” which is filed with the court. ] This option may not be offered in all child support offices.
Step 6: File the Support Order
If there is no Stipulated Agreement, a court date will be set. The judge will review the financial and other relevant information from both parties and decide on an appropriate amount of child support to be ordered If either parent can get medical insurance, the court will consider that cost in deciding the amount of child support ordered.
Step 7: Make or Receive Payments
After a child support order is set, payments are scheduled to begin. There are many options for payment but if the parent ordered to pay is employed, their employer will be required to make those payments by withholding the funds from their paycheck. This is mandated under Federal law for child support orders and does not imply a failure to pay. All payments are recorded and this can provide security for the parent paying support in case there is any disagreement.
Step 8: Enforcing the Order
A child support order is a legal court order. Parents who refuse to pay or delay paying their child support face enforcement actions that can include:
• Suspension of their driver’s license or passport
• Revocation of professional and occupational licenses
• Bank and property liens
• Interception of tax refunds
• Interception of lottery winnings
Also, by Utah state law, unpaid court orders get charged 10% interest.
As a last resort, civil contempt charges may also be filed. If you have trouble paying your child support, talk to your local agency right away. There are programs available to help parents who are trying in good faith to pay their support.
Step 9: Modify the Order (if changes are necessary)
If either parent or guardian has a change in circumstances after a child support order is set, which could be losing a job, changing jobs, or a change in custody or visitation, the order may qualify for modification.
Step 10: Closing the Case
There are many reasons why a child support case can be closed. The usual one is that the youngest child reaches the age of 18, is no longer a full-time high school student, and no past-due balances are owed. At that time both parents are notified by the child support agency, and the case stays open for 60 days after this notification. All records are maintained for at least four years and four months in accordance with federal law.
Essential Child Support Documents
Whether you’re filing for child support services for the first time, requesting an official child support modification, or just updating your current contact information, as the petitioner, you’ll want to have the following documents ready and available.
• A valid photo ID, such as your driver’s license or up-to-date passport
• Proof of your address, such as a recent rent receipt, mortgage statement, or utility bill
• Birth certificate(s) for the children for whom you are seeking child support
• The other parent’s contact information or any information you have regarding their current address or place of employment
Depending on the method and the status of your application, you will either submit scanned copies of these documents securely online or print or mail or drop off paper copies to your local child support office. Some states require original documents. Again, check with your local office for specific guidelines in your area.
Helpful Child Support Documents
There are a number of additional documents that may also be helpful when you file for child support. If the following are available and pertain to your child support case, you should plan to bring them to every appointment at your local child support agency or have them handy if you are completing an online application:
• Proof of paternity, such as an affidavit or the results of a DNA test
• Social Security cards for yourself and each of your children
• Proof of income, such as recent pay stubs and/or W-2 forms
• Evidence of recent child support payments and/or arrears statements
• Existing child support orders for each of your children, including any Uniform Support Petition documentation and/or a Notice of Determination of Controlling Order
• Your divorce decree, if applicable
• Additional financial documentation, including evidence of a real estate or personal property you own
How The Number Of Children Affects How Much You Pay
If you’re paying child support and you’re on the basic rate of child maintenance, the amount you pay will depend on the number of children you’re being asked to pay for.
The figures below assume that your children stay with the parent who receives child maintenance all the time.
On the basic rate, if you’re paying for:
• One child, you’ll pay 12% of your gross weekly income
• Two children, you’ll pay 16% of your gross weekly income
• Three or more children, you’ll pay 19% of your gross weekly income.
How Shared Care Affects Child Support
Many parents decide to share the care of their children. If your children spend some time with the paying parent, this will reduce the amount of child maintenance he or she pays. There are different ‘bands’ which determine how much child maintenance is reduced by. The amount of child maintenance is reduced for each child who spends time with the paying parent.
If over the year your child is with the paying parent between:
• 52 and 103 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 1/7th for each child
• 104 and 155 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 2/7th for each child
• 156 and 174 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 3/7th for each child
• 175 nights or more nights: child maintenance is reduced by 50%, plus an extra £7 a week reduction for each child.
Paying For Children From Another Relationship
If the paying parent’s gross weekly income is between £200 and £3,000, and they pay child support for other children, this is taken into account when working out how much they should pay.
The Child Support Service simply reduces the amount of weekly income that it takes into account. For example, if the paying parent is paying for:
• One other child, their weekly income will be reduced by 11%
• Two other children, their weekly income will be reduced by 14%
• Three or more other children, their weekly income will be reduced by 16%.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
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