Child support is financial assistance that a non-custodial parent pays to a custodial parent to meet the basic needs of a shared child. This money goes from parent to parent, rather than directly to the child, and is separate from any spousal support that might also be paid. Child support can be ordered by the court or administratively, but parents can also enter into informal agreements between themselves for the payment of support.
If you are receiving or paying child support through a court order, it is important to understand how those payments are calculated.
Key points to remember
- Child support is a type of financial support that is paid from parent to parent for the care and custody of a joint child.
- Child support can be ordered by the court or administratively, although parents can also make arrangements for the payment of child support between them.
- The amounts of court-ordered child support payments are determined by the income guidelines used by the state where the case is filed.
- Child support payments are neither tax deductible for the person paying them nor included in the taxable income of the person receiving them.
Child Support Basics
Child support is financial assistance paid by one parent to another for the care of one or more children they share. State laws govern child support payments, including:
- Who has to pay child support
- When it’s necessary
- How much support is payable
- When Support Payments Should End
Each state has different rules for child support. In New York, for example, the law states that both parents are financially responsible for children up to the age of 21. You can file a New York child support claim if:
- You are a custodial parent (i.e. you have physical custody) and the child lives with you most of the time
- You are the guardian or caregiver (not a parent) and the child lives with you
- You are an emancipated child who does not live with either parent
The Department of Social Services can also pursue child support claims on behalf of children who are living in foster care.
Parents do not need to be married to file a child support claim, and a formal custody order does not need to be in place. Parents do not have to live in the same state for a party to claim child support. However, depending on the state, parentage may need to be established before a child support claim can be made.
This is a requirement in New York City, and it is usually done by both parents who complete a paternity acknowledgment document or file a petition in court. The court can order a DNA test when parentage is unclear or disputed. In the case of same-sex couples, New York law allows courts to use their own discretion in determining parentage.
Speaking to a divorce or family law attorney in your state can help you clarify the rules and requirements for filing a child support claim.
How child support is determined
Each state sets its own rules for determining how child support payments are calculated. Some of the things that can influence child support include:
- With whom the child lives mainly
- How much time does the child have with the other parent
- Income of custodial parent and non-custodial parent
The race, gender and sexual orientation of either parent do not directly impact the amount of child support. However, there are disparities between who pays and receives child support in this sense.
For example, four in five custodial parents are women. Of these parents, 28.1% are black women, while 24.1% are of Hispanic descent. Custodial fathers are more likely to be non-Hispanic white males than black or Hispanic males. The majority of overdue child support in the United States is owed by low-income fathers, including many black men who are disadvantaged in fulfilling their obligations due to racial inequalities.
With that in mind, there are different formulas that the courts can use to calculate child support payments. They include the Income Sharing Model, Income Percentage Model, and Melson’s Formula.
Income stock model
The income split model assumes that a parent should receive the same percentage of support from a non-custodial parent that they would receive if both parents lived together. This model takes into account the income of both parents to determine the amount to be paid. Forty-one states, Guam and the Virgin Islands use the income sharing model for calculating child support.
For example, let’s say you earned 60% of your household income, while your partner or spouse earned 40%. As a non-custodial parent, the amount you would pay would be 0.60 times a basic care amount, as determined by your state. If this basic amount were $ 500, you would pay $ 300 per month in child support.
Income percentage model
The income percentage model sets child support as a percentage of the income of the non-custodial parent. The percentage used is determined by state guidelines and can be applied as a fixed or variable rate. Four states use the flat rate model for determining child support, while two states use the variable rate model.
For example, suppose you earn $ 3,000 a month and your state assesses a flat rate of 20% child support. You should $ 600 per month using the income percentage model.
The Melson Formula is a variation of the income sharing model that attempts to ensure that the financial needs of both parents and child are met. Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana use this model, while the District of Columbia uses a hybrid model that starts with a varying percentage of income and then reduces it using a formula based on the income of the custodial parent.
Once a child support order is made, it generally cannot be changed without court approval, depending on what is permitted by state law.
How to apply for child support
Depending on where you live, you should be able to apply for child support from your social services department or your child support services division. You may be able to apply online or in person. When you apply, you will be required to provide certain information, including:
- Proof of your identity
- Proof of income
- Copy of your child’s birth certificate
- Photo of non-custodial parent
- Verification of marital status
- Legal documents relevant to your claim, which may include a divorce decree, affidavit of parentage, domestic violence protection order, and voluntary agreements signed between you and the non-custodial parent
If English is not your first language, or if you have a disability that prevents you from seeking help online, your social services department should be able to help you file a child support claim. .
If you are eligible to receive child support, the amount you should receive is determined using one of the models mentioned above. In addition to income, the court may also take into account the individual costs of raising a child, including child care costs, medical costs, and insurance and education costs.
Once a child support order is made, the non-custodial parent may be able to make payments to the Department of Social Services. He would then distribute them to the custodial parent. Alternatively, your state’s laws may require automatic wage garnishment for child support payments. You don’t have to include child support payments that you receive in your taxes, and if you pay child support, you can’t deduct it as a deductible expense.
Failure to pay court-ordered child support could result in enforcement action, including prison terms and fines.
The bottom line
Child support is designed to meet the needs of children after the end of a marital or non-marital relationship. Determining who should pay and who should receive child support can be tricky, especially if the issue is also tied to a custody battle. Understanding what your child care rights and obligations are can help you if child support is part of your financial situation.