The Challenges of Child Support: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

The child support process is often tedious and frustrating, but, if not done correctly, it can have serious financial consequences for all involved.  Approximately 4 out of 10 children are born to unwed mothers and approximately 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 are being raised without a father.  As a result, child support is often a critical piece of the financial puzzle for single parents raising children.  Below are five important things that every parent involved in the child support process should know and understand about child support.

Paternity Must be Established

As an initial matter, the paternity of the child must be established for the child support obligation to arise. In cases where the mother was not married when the child was born and paternity was not voluntarily acknowledged, the paternity of the child must be established.  Absent proof of paternity, courts cannot order child support.  In many instances, the mother of the child can go to her local office of child support enforcement and receive assistance with the process of establishing paternity.

Timely establishing paternity of your child is important not only for child support purposes but also for your child to receive other important benefits.  For example, if the father of the child suddenly passed away, paternity is a key factor in the child being able to receive social security benefits and inheritance from their deceased father.  In short, do not delay in establishing paternity of your child.

Both Parents Are Obligated to Support Their Child

The law places an obligation on every parent to support their child until the child turns 18 years old or is emancipated.  This support obligation is on both the mother and the father of the child, and both can be ordered to pay child support.

Also, nearly every jurisdiction calculates child support using a statutory formula that takes into consideration the income of the parents, certain expenses and the amount of time the child spends with each parent.  This statutory formula will be applied to the majority of cases.  If the incomes of the parents are very high, however, then the court can deviate from the child support guidelines and order that a child support amount in excess of the guidelines be paid.

Always Request That Child Support Payments be Made Through the Office of Child Support Enforcement

Every parent should request that child support payments be made through their local office of child support enforcement.  Regardless of whether you are the parent responsible for paying child support or the parent who is receiving child support, there are benefits to having child support payments made through your state’s office of child support enforcement.

One of the key reasons for insisting that child support payments be made through the office of child support enforcement is that it keeps a record of child support payments actually made by the paying parent.  We all have heard of those cases where a parent claims to have paid child support, but the parent who allegedly received the child support payments claims that they never received the payments.  By paying child support payments directly to the office of child support enforcement, the paying parent has an irrefutable record of meeting their child support obligation.  In short, when the paying parent pays their child support obligation through the office of child support enforcement, they have a third party confirming his or her fulfillment of their child support obligation.

Similarly, by requiring that payments be made through the office of child support enforcement, the parent receiving child support now has an enforcement arm that will act on her behalf should the paying parent not timely satisfy their child support obligation.  Indeed, your local office of child support enforcement has a cadre of lawyers that will wield a variety of enforcement tools to ensure that the parent ordered to pay child support fulfills his child support obligation.

If Your Income Changes, Timely Move to Modify Your Child Support Obligation

In today’s tumultuous economy, it is not unusual for a parent to experience a job loss or an unexpected reduction in income.  When that parent has a child support obligation, however, it is critical that she timely move to modify her child support obligation in light of her changed financial circumstances.  Too many parents fail to act timely in requesting that the court modify their child support obligation following a job loss or a reduction in income.  Unfortunately, until the parent files for a modification, the existing child support obligation applies.  Do not delay in requesting that the court modify your child support obligation if you have a change in your financial circumstances, or else you could find yourself facing an overwhelming amount of overdue child support and other penalties.

Falling Behind in Child Support Can Have Far-Reaching Ramifications

There are a wide range of enforcement tools that can be wielded against a parent who does not timely satisfy his child support obligation.  Regardless of the reasons for nonpayment, if a parent fails to pay their child support obligation, then they can face the prospect of wage garnishment, tax refund garnishment, license suspension, liens on property, negative reports to the various credit bureaus, interest on the amount owed and, in egregious circumstances, criminal prosecution, which can result in jail time or hefty fines.

Child support is an obligation that states take very seriously because it has a significant impact on children.  If you or someone you know has a child support issue, they should contact legal counsel immediately to get assistance in navigating this complex process.

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Written by Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C.

Attorney Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford has extensive experience counseling and representing clients facing complex and challenging legal issues. He puts his experience to work with each client to help them get their desired results, no matter what legal situation they are facing. Each service that is offered is backed by his experience, education, professional training, and passion for employment law and litigation.