Child support is a hot-button issue in any divorce or child custody arrangement. Paying child support is not limited to fathers, of course, but only one in about six custodial parents are fathers—making them the parents who normally end up paying into the child support system.
Knowing your rights as a non-custodial, paying parent will go a long way to protecting your own rights while ensuring that your children are not in financial need. If you are new to the child support system, or thinking about revisiting an established arrangement, take some time to sort out the truths from the myths surrounding this important legal issue.
- Every state has different rules. Child support is handled by the Department of Children and Family Services in individual states. There are no official national guidelines in place and every state has its own formula. In order to truly understand what you are up against, visit the official child support website for your state. Even then, it is wise to talk to a local family law attorney who knows the ins and outs of the system through experience.
- Child support does not buy time. Contrary to what some believe, paying child support does not entitle you to a specific amount of time with your children. Custody percentages do play into the financial responsibility of each parent but that is generally determined before child support is established. In fact, men who have less time with their children must account for the financial needs of their children when they are with their mother, though each individual case is different.
- Failure to pay does not decrease time. The law looks at the well-being of the children involved, regardless of financial factors. A mother cannot keep a father from seeing his children if he is behind on child support payments, or vice versa. The law will not disrupt the routine of the children involved, or deprive them of vital time with either parent, because of financial complications. Other avenues for resolving child support payment issues will be pursued but none that break an otherwise-sound custody agreement.
- Modifications are possible. Child support is established based on what financial factors are known at the time of the court date. Things do happen that can impact the amount you are legally expected to pay. Some circumstances that might warrant a child support modification include disability or serious illness, reduction in income, change in financial circumstances, inheritance by the child or a child aging out. If you aren’t sure if you qualify for a modification, talk to an attorney first before jumping through all the legal hoops on your own.
- You won’t get locked up for refusal to pay. Well, not right away. In most cases, a father does not have to make a conscious choice to pay child support because the amount is garnished from his paycheck. When this is not an option and a dad neglects to pay his full amount, various government agencies have different avenues to retrieve the money. An agency may redirect income tax refunds to the custodial parent, revoke professional licenses, or suspend the father’s driver’s license. In some cases, and generally when other avenues have all been exhausted, a father may be sentenced to jail because of failure to pay. Again, talking to an experienced attorney before you fall too far behind in your payments will help you avoid any jail time related to your case.
- Your responsibility does not always end when the child turns 18. Though a person is not technically considered a child any longer at the age of 18, there are some cases where child support will still be required. A child who is enrolled full time in college may still receive support until the age of 22. There are also times when a child with a disability or serious illness may receive support beyond the age of 18, but each case is determined on an individual basis.
- Child support is not tax deductible. When it comes to the IRS, paying child support is just like handing the recipient cash. The receiver does not claim it as income, but the payer cannot deduct it from his or her taxes. At first this may seem unfair, particularly in the case of wage garnishment, because child support is never seen by the earner. Consider it to be just like paying for groceries or clothing for your kids—the only difference is the money doesn’t deposit into your bank account first.
- Child support is not legally required to benefit children directly. In other words, once the money is in the other parent’s bank account, you (or the law) have no control over it. Child support is intended to help alleviate the cost of raising children for the custodial parent, but that parent is not required to provide proof of how the money is spent. It is not a direct system. In some cases, a non-custodial parent can petition the court to look into the spending of the other parent if it appears that the children are suffering as a result of poor financial choices.
- It’s easy to fall behind. You do not have to go out of your way to avoid paying your child support to find yourself in the hole. Child support is generally owed from the date the order is signed—but the red tape may mean it is not deducted from your paycheck for several months. Even though this is a bureaucratic delay, you are still responsible for making timely payments before automation kicks in. Most states have an online payment center where you can stay on track with your child support and avoid being behind from the start.
- Remarriage is not grounds for child support modification. If you remarry, your new spouse’s income will likely not be an issue when it comes to what you owe in child support. The same is true if your ex remarries and has more household income. Most courts will look only at the incomes of the biological or adoptive parents of the children involved when it comes to determining the proper amount of child support.
There are many more intricacies involved when it comes to child support so you should always enlist the help of an attorney when it comes to establishing and modifying it. Remember that child support is meant to be a fair system that benefits the children involved. Knowing your rights is the first step toward a balanced approach to child support in your case.