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How to Protect Child Support Payments upon Separation or Divorce

The right to receive child support payments does not belong to the custodial parent. Instead, the right belongs to the child. Each parent has an equal duty to support a child depending on both parents’ monthly income and expenses.

The parents’ agreement on a child support plan has the most significant impact on child support. It is important to realize, though, that even if the parents agree on a support plan, a judge must still approve the ultimate amount of support payments. Still, parties have far more control, as well as more privacy, over the process if they are willing to make their own determinations.

When divorcing parents cannot agree on a child support plan, a judge must decide whether a spouse is entitled to child support and, if so, in what amount. State courts use guidelines for establishing child support payments according to standardized calculations.

Each state differs on the amount of leeway judges are given to deviate from child support guidelines when determining support awards. Some states afford great latitude and discretion, while others allow very little, if any.

Of course, it is always possible for either spouse to request a modification of the amount of child support originally determined by the court, should circumstances change for either parent. The clerk’s office has standard forms available for petitioning the court to change support amounts. A family law attorney can assist you in that process.

To enforce an existing child support award, you must contact the county district attorney’s office, commonwealth’s attorney, or similar governmental prosecuting attorney’s office. These offices are equipped to provide enforcement services for child support orders at little to no cost to the petitioning parent.

If a parent does not make the required support payment(s), the parent entitled to the payment may request the assistance of a judge to find the nonpaying parent in contempt of court for disobeying the court’s order. The contempt penalties include fines, jail, or both. Alternatively, the county district attorney can have back payments deducted from the nonpaying parent’s state income tax refund or charge that parent with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, a maximum of a one-year jail sentence, or both. It is possible for the parent seeking default payments to file forms to garnish the nonpaying parent’s wages or to put a lien on bank accounts and/or other property.

So when does it all end? Support obligations are a long-term commitment designed to protect the status quo in a child’s life. For that reason, child support payments are to be made until a child reaches age 18. That age is increased to 19 if the child is still a high school student.