Child support is defined as “a payment made by a noncustodial parent as a contribution to the costs of raising his or her child”. Various factors are taken into consideration when the court calculates what the appropriate payment from the aforementioned noncustodial parent ought to be. These factors vary depending on the court in which the calculations are made; some jurisdictions take into account different factors than others.
However, there are a few things that are almost universally agreed upon as variables defining child support amounts. One that is of particular importance in all cases is the income and assets of each parent. For obvious reasons, the amount of money to which the noncustodial parent has access, be it in the form of their paycheck or other format such as ownership of real estate, is directly proportional to the amount they are able to provide to the end of supporting their offspring. A parent with higher income will pay a higher amount of child support, and a lower earning parent will do the opposite.
This is related to another factor, the earning ability of each parent. If the custodial parent is unemployed due to an inability to work, for example, the parent paying in might find themself having to put in more to make up for the difference.
Another factor commonly considered is the particular characteristics of the child, such as if the child has special needs that incur medical or other costs. This is necessary to take into account when calculating child support payments because the ultimate goal of child support is to support the child, and some children require more or different things in order to be adequately supported.
There are many other factors involved in these calculations, and which are to be considered the most important varies by jurisdiction. However, rather than explicating every possible iteration, let’s move on to the time frame of child support.
The obligation of a parent to support their child begins at that child’s birth, and legally ends when the child reaches emancipation, which can mean a few different things. Some events that constitute emancipation include:
- The child reaches the age of majority, which in all fifty states ranges from age 18 to age 21.
- The child graduates from high school and doesn’t continue their educational path onwards to trade school or college.
- The child graduates from trade school or college.
- The child does not finish school and goes to work full time.
- The child gets married.
- The child enters the military.
Essentially, when the child starts living their life in a way that can be interpreted as being more “adult” than “child”, the obligation for child support ends.
The inclusion of the time of secondary education in the terms of a child support agreement is interesting, because while most people would not consider a 22 year old college student a child, that person is still in a position to require financial support. For this reason, it is possible in some states for child support orders to still be in effect for the duration of the child’s secondary schooling. This is because, while the child has reached the age of majority, they are not considered emancipated because they are not financially supporting themselves.
Each state had the power to determine their own laws regarding child support until federal intervention created a necessary sort of uniformity. A 1974 amendment to the Social Security Act mandated that every state have a Child Support Enforcement Program in order to ensure that payments were made, and made accurately. CSEPs provide services including locating absent parents, establish paternity when it is in question, and ensure that payments are being made to the amount and on the schedule that the court determined.
Child support is an important part of all divorces involving couples with children. It is not to be confused with alimony, which is also known as spousal support, which is intended to aid the lower-earning spouse in maintaining a reasonable standard of living after the couple’s divorce. Child support is a branch of the social contract between parents and their children, which dictates that that parent is responsible for the well-being of that child. Through the legal considerations of child support, this contract is able to be maintained even in cases when a set of parents elects to go their separate ways.