Temporary child support is based upon the respective incomes of the parties as adjusted by any temporary maintenance. If temporary maintenance is to be paid to a party, then, for the purpose of computing child support, the maintenance paid reduces the income of the payor and increases by the same amount the income of the payee. That is why temporary maintenance is computed before temporary child support.
The responsibilities of a stepparent depend on state law. A stepparent usually is not required to pay child support for a spouse’s child from another marriage, unless the stepparent has adopted the child. Until then, the child’s biological parents are liable for the child’s support. Some states, however, make stepparents liable for the stepchild’s support as long as the stepparent and stepchild are living together.
A stepparent who does not adopt a spouse’s child normally may not claim custody of the child if the marriage ends in divorce, although some states allow a stepparent to seek visitation.
A stepchild usually does not share in the estate of a stepparent, unless the stepparent has provided for the stepchild in a will. However, an unmarried stepchild under eighteen may receive supplemental retirement benefits or survivor’s benefits under Social Security.
The following is a checklist of techniques for collection of past-due child support:
Wage withholding orders. These are entered by a court and served on the employer of the parent who owes support. (The person who owes support is called the “obligor.”) The employer sends payments to the government, which then sends support payments to the parent to whom support is owed.
Tax refund intercepts. The government sends a notice to the Internal Revenue Service or the state department of revenue, directing that the obligor’s tax refund be sent to the government for payment of support.
Liens on property. A lien can be placed on the real estate, automobile, or other property of the obligor. If support is not paid, the property can be confiscated and sold. Alternatively, the lien may stay on the property until it is sold by the obligor, at which point the debt must be paid before the obligor receives any proceeds from the sale.
Under the current law of almost all states, mothers and fathers have an equal right to custody. Courts are not supposed to assume that a child is automatically better off with the mother or the father. In a contested custody case, both the father and mother have an equal burden of proving to the court that it is in the best interest of the child that the child be in his or her custody.
There are a few states (mostly in the South) that have laws providing that if everything else is equal, the mother may be preferred; but in those states, many fathers have been successful in obtaining custody, even if the mother is a fit parent.
In some states, courts say that mothers and fathers are to be considered equally, but the courts then go on to hold that it is permissible to consider the age or sex of the child when deciding custody. That usually translates to a preference for mothers if the child is young or female. But, again, it is possible for fathers in those states to gain custody, even when the mother is fit.
When a child reaches the age of majority (usually eighteen)or graduates high school, that normally is a basis for stopping child support for that child, unless the parent is obliged to help pay for that child’s college education.
Whether payments stop at age eighteen or at graduation from high school depends on the law of the state. Many states say payments stop at the later of those two events (assuming the child will graduate high school in a normal amount of time).
If only one child is the subject of a support order, the parent who is obliged to pay child support (the obligor) can stop making payments when the child reaches eighteen or graduates high school. The obligor does not have to go to court to seek permission to stop payments.
If there is more than one child who is subject of a support order, the right of the obligor to reduce payments when the oldest child reaches the age of majority will depend on the wording of the court’s support order.
If support is set at a certain amount per child (for example, “child support shall be $200 per month for each of the three children”), then the obligor may reduce payments by $200 as each of the three children reach the age of majority. Under this example, child support would be $600 per month when all three children were under eighteen; $400 per month when the oldest child reached eighteen; $200 per month when the middle child reached eighteen; and no support when all three were over eighteen.
The most common standard for modification of child support is a substantial change in circumstances. That usually refers to a change in income of the parent who is supposed to be paying support. If the parent who is obliged to pay support suffers a loss of income, that could be a basis for reducing support; conversely, if the parent’s income increases, that could be a basis for increasing support.
Changes in circumstances of the child also can be a reason for modifying support. If the child has significant new expenses, such as orthodonture, special classes, or health needs that are not covered by insurance, that too can be a reason for increasing support.
Significant changes in the income of the parent seeking support also can be a basis for modification. If the custodial parent’s income drops (particularly through no fault of the custodial parent), that might be a basis for increasing support. If the custodial parent’s income increases, that might be a basis for reducing support from the noncustodial parent.
The obligation of a divorced parent to pay for the child’s college expenses or trade school will depend on the state in which the parents live and any agreement between the parents regarding such expenses.
Courts in some states will require parents to pay for a child’s college expenses, assuming the parents can afford it and the child is a good enough student to benefit from college. Courts in these states reason that the child’s parents probably would have helped pay for the child’s education had the marriage remained intact and that the child’s education should not suffer because of the divorce.
In an Illinois case, for example, the father during the marriage was very enthusiastic about having his son attend his alma mater, Dartmouth College. The father took his son to Dartmouth three times and often bought his son clothes and memorabilia with the Dartmouth logo. The father even arranged for influential alumni of Dartmouth to write letters of recommendation for his son.
A question often arises on the effect of joint custody on child support. The effect of joint custody will depend on the nature of the joint custody arrangement. If the parents have joint legal custody (by which they share making major decisions regarding the child), that by itself will have little effect on child support. If the parents have only joint legal custody, one parent still has primary custody of the child and handles payment of most of the child’s day-to-day expenses. The custodial parent’s expenses for the child have not been reduced by the joint custody arrangement.
If the parents have joint physical custody, with the child spending a substantial amount of time with each parent, and if the parents have approximately equal incomes, it is possible neither parent will have to pay support to the other. The father and mother will pay the child’s day-to-day expenses when the child is in their respective homes. The parents, however, will need to coordinate payments on major expenses such as camp, school, clothing, and insurance.
The law defines children as unmarried persons under the age of majority-usually eighteen-who have not left home to support themselves. Children have a right to be supported by their parents. The right of support includes food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Parents are also obliged to arrange for the education of their children either at school or at home. If parents seek to educate their children at home, the parents usually must prove to the state that they offer a genuine education program at home. Children taught at home may be subject to state testing to ensure that the children are making satisfactory progress in their education.
Children also have a right to be educated by the government through high school (assuming the child is not expelled from school for misconduct). Under federal law, children with significant physical or mental handicaps have a right to government-paid special education programs to meet their needs. If a parent believes a child needs a special education program, but the government is not providing one, the parent can appeal the issue through administrative agencies within the school system and through the courts if necessary.
Under state laws, it is a criminal offense for parents and legal guardians to fail to meet children’s basic needs, including food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, and supervision. Such failure constitutes child neglect.
Child abuse laws make it a crime for adults to abuse children in their care. Such adults include parents, legal guardians, other adults in the home, and baby-sitters. Supervising adults may not go beyond reasonable physical punishment. For example, adults who beat children so severely that the children require medical treatment have violated these laws. Child abuse laws cover not only physical abuse and sexual abuse, but also emotional abuse, such as subjecting a child to extreme public humiliation.
A person may be guilty of child abuse that he or she did not personally commit if that person had legal responsibility for the child and failed to protect the child from the abuser.