When spouses divorce, the court often awards custody of the children to one parent. Both parents remain financially responsible for their children, but the court usually requires the non-custodial parent to make child support payments; the parent who pays support is called the "obligor," while the parent receiving payments is the "obligee." Child support requirements and guidelines are very state specific, so it is critical to check your state's particular requirements or consult a child support attorney with experience in your area.
Amount of Child Support Payments
Child support payments are calculated by schedules developed by each state and based on parents' incomes and expenses and their children's daily living expenses, education, health, and other needs. Parents must provide for their children based on the their circumstances and "station in life"; the goal is to ensure that children share in the standard of living of both parents.
How Long Child Support Must Be Paid
Most states require parents to pay for their children's needs until their children are legally adults, or through their high school education. Some states have extended these requirements even further. Unlike spousal support, child support is usually only terminated once the child becomes a legal adult, goes on active duty in the armed forces, becomes emancipated, or dies.
There are many tax implications in both child and spousal support payments. The child support an obligee parent receives is not that parent's income, and the obligor parent cannot deduct the payments on their federal tax return. However, the custodial parent may usually claim a child dependency exemption, child-care credit, and possibly file as head of household.
Loss of Job or Bankruptcy
If an obligor parent loses his or her job or suffers a serious decrease in income, he or she may be justified in requesting a child support modification. The obligor can write an agreement with the other parent for a temporary decrease or deferment in payments, or seek a modification from the court. However, a parent will almost never be totally relieved of child support obligations, even in bankruptcy.
Child Support Enforcement and Failure to Pay
All parents are required to financially support their children. An obligor parent can lose their driver's license or professional license, or be sentenced to jail for failing to pay required child support, and they will still be responsible for delinquent payments. Obligee parents can seek enforcement of a child support order by contacting a government collection agency, or asking the court to garnish wages, issue a tax refund interception, judgment lien, or hold the delinquent parent in contempt of court.
A family law attorney with experience in your area can answer any additional questions about child support that you may have, and may be able to help you modify a court order or assist you with the enforcement of an existing order.
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