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How Does the Court Calculate Child Support & Award Custody?



For a parent, child custody is one of the most stressful components of a divorce or split with ones' partner. The law helps protect the needs of the children whose parents are not together by determining whats in their best interest. The court will finalize child support, child custody, and visitation to ensure a child is properly cared for after a divorce is finalized..

How the Court Awards Child Custody

During a divorce proceeding, the courts can use a variety of methods to determine child custody. Often, the family law courts will accept a custody plan created by parents in their separation agreement if it meets the childs best interests. Or a court will mediate custody issues to avoid a hostile custody dispute. Some states have even established specialized courts to settle disputes.

The courts may also hire a child custody evaluator to help establish which parent will get custody of the child. A child custody evaluator is an impartial, expert witness who helps determine whats best for the child.

An evaluator interviews both parents and the child involved in the custody dispute. The evaluator will also watch how the child and the parents interact. He or she may also conduct psychological testing.

After finishing the assessment, the child custody evaluator must submit a written report to the court. The court uses the report to help determine child custody and visitation. At a minimum, the report will include child custody and visitation recommendations. It could also include recommendations for therapy, parenting classes and a parenting plan.

How the Court Awards Child Support

The law also requires that parents take financial care for the child until he or she becomes of legal age. Child support helps pay for a childs needs and daily expenses. This includes food, clothing, housing, education, health insurance, medical care, extracurricular activities, and child care. Many parents hire lawyers to help argue their cases in child support court.

During a divorce proceeding, child support may be determined as part of the divorce settlement. In most cases, the parent who doesnt win child custody pays child support to the parent who is awarded custody, regardless of the sex of the parent that wins custody. However, child support laws do vary from state to state.

There are instances when child support is disputed in court. Across the United States, parents must follow some basic procedures to file for court-ordered child support.

First, one parent or their attorney must go to court to file an application to establish child support. Then, the other parent will get served a court summons by a police officer, sheriff or process service. The summons informs the parent that he or she is being sued for child support. Once the other parent is served they have to attend a hearing to conclude if they must pay child support.

There are situations where a parent denies he is the father. This generally occurs when the couple is unmarried or a fathers name is not listed on the birth certificate. As a result, paternity must be established. This can occur voluntary with the signing of an affidavit, which is a sworn statement, or through DNA testing in contested cases.

After paternity is verified, the childs name is put on the childs birth certificate. Then the court will order the parent to make child support payments and establish other provisions such as medical care.

Each state has different guidelines to calculate the amount a parent should pay for child support. In general, the following information helps determine how much child support should be paid:

  • Parents' incomes and assets
  • The medical expenses of the child
  • Daycare costs
  • Insurance costs
  • Other factors include the age of the child, the amount of time spent with the non-custodial parent, and if a parent receives child support or alimony from a previous marriage.

    Many states make child support calculators available online. These help determine how much child support should be paid. After child support is established, it must be paid at the same time each month. Most states have created child support registries, which collect the funds and then forward the money on to the custodial parent.