In the United States, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and almost one-fourth of all children are born to unmarried parents. When married parents’ divorce or separate, or when only one of the unmarried parents has custody of a child, the court may order one parent to pay the other parent a certain portion of his or her income as child support.
Child support orders are issued by the family law court, which bases the amount of support on state child support guidelines. These guidelines establish the amount of required support, based largely on the parent’s income, the number of children and the percentage of time the child spends with each parent.
The court can deviate from the guidelines if there are significant reasons to do so. The fact that the custodial parent has a high income does not justify deviation from the guidelines; by law, a child has the right to benefit from both parents’ incomes. Child support can be increased if there is a change in circumstances justifying the increase, such as an increase in the payer’s income or a decrease in the custodial parent’s income. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if the circumstances justify the reduction.
In cases involving unmarried parents seeking child support, the first step may be to legally establish they are the biological parents of the child. The parents can do this voluntarily, but if either parent denies the child is theirs the other parent may need to bring an action to establish paternity, which is usually done using genetic (DNA) testing. The court will order the alleged parent to submit to the testing if they do not agree to do so voluntarily. Once paternity is established, the court will issue an order for child support.
In cases where an individual has “step-into” the shoes of a biological parent, the court may also order child support depending on the circumstances surrounding that relationship.
When the non-custodial parent moves to another state, the custodial parent may have to rely on the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act to implement or ensure payment of child support. This Act provides the procedure by which a support order issued in one state can by enforced by the courts of another state.
Child support issues are an important concern and the assistance of an experienced lawyer is essential to the process.