Child support law is relatively complex and can be challenging to navigate without professional assistance. Hiring a lawyer to help you with the process can be very useful in two situations:
The first situation where a lawyer can help is if you have to pay child support for a child in the custody of another parent. An experienced child support attorney can help you negotiate the agreement and ensure you are getting a fair shake by the court.
The second situation where a lawyer can help is if you are the custodial parent of a child owed child support. An experienced child support attorney can help you track down the other parent and ensure they start paying the court-ordered amount.
If you fall into either of these two categories, then you should probably hire a child support lawyer to help with your situation.
In this article, we’re going to teach you some general information about child support law. This information will help when you meet with a child support lawyer at an initial consultation. We’re also going to explain different ways that a child support lawyer might be able to help your situation. Finally, at the end of the article, we link to our guide which lays out the specific steps to take on how to get a lawyer.
General Information On Child Support Law
Before we proceed, you need to know that the information provided on this webpage is only general information about child support law. It is not legal advice and it is not even specific advice. Instead, it is general information to help you prepare for a consultation with
Child Support Requirements
These are the different tests that a court will walk through when establishing whether child support is owed for a child:
The child must meet any age requirements set by the state for child support payments. In most states, child support ends when the child reaches the age of majority, dies, or gets married. The age of majority is usually 18 years old, but there are a few states that set it at 21 years old.
There are a few additional exceptions that can vary by state. The first exception is a disability and the second exception is college. Regarding disability, a court might extend child support beyond the age of majority if the child has a mental or physical disability. As for college, a court might require child support payments for the duration of the child’s college in specific circumstances. In these situations, a lawyer with experience in child support law could identify these exceptions and help with the child support process in your specific situation.
Payments for child support are only made to the person with custody of the child, whether it is a parent or guardian. The result to receive child support payments a parent must have custody of the child.
The rules are slightly different in shared custody situations. In instances where both parents share custody, a court may still require one of the parents to make child support payments. A child support lawyer can really help with the negotiation. The lawyer can use his or her expertise to negotiate a lower amount of child support than in a sole custody situation.
It may seem obvious, but a parent can’t choose a random stranger off the road and make them pay child support for the parent’s child. Child support requires the existence of a legal relationship called paternity between the parent and the child. Here are several ways a court can go about establishing paternity:
Establishing Paternity by Marriage
The most common way to establish paternity if both parents were married. In this instance, the court will presume that both the father and mother are the parents of the child unless proven otherwise.
Establishing Paternity by Statements
Another way to establish paternity is when a person claims to be the mother or the father. Making such a statement is common in situations where neither party wants to contest paternity. Both parents come into court and state that they are the parents.
In less common situations, where one party does not want to make such a statement, evidence of prior statements might be admissible as evidence. However, hearsay rules might apply and prevent such evidence from being introduced. Also, it is important to point out that a birth certificate is usually not enough to establish paternity.
Figuring out what type of statement is enough to establish paternity is another example of where a child support lawyer can help. Each state has unique paternity laws, and a lawyer can help figure out which applies in a particular state.
Establishing Paternity by a DNA Test
In some instances, a court may order a blood test to determine paternity. A state-recognized facility will administer these tests. Also, most states require that the analysis show a 99% probability of fatherhood or motherhood. A child support lawyer will know the exact requirements but arguing against the results is virtually impossible.
Keep in mind that in many states, failure to submit to a court-ordered DNA test can make the court find a parent in contempt. With modern technology, DNA tests are becoming more commonplace. Courts often turn to this scientific tool to establish paternity when it is in dispute.
Child Support Payments
In each state, state law controls child support determinations. The state will have a unique formula to determine child support payments. The state law will also detail how the child support payments may be divided between each parent when both parents have an earning capacity. Finally, most states place caps on the total payment amount.
Each state has customized child support tables which list income amounts based on the number of children. In one state, the law could say that with one child, the parent with custody is entitled to 17% of the other parent’s monthly gross income in child support payments. In situations with one or more child, the state law might bump the number up to 20%.
Another way child support laws can change depending on the state is whether the percentage is based on gross income or net income. The amount can be significant between the two calculations.
A child support lawyer is highly recommended because they can explain the details in a particular state and give legal advice to a parent’s specific situation.
The percentage of child support isn’t always paid in full by an individual parent. Instead, the court will often reduce the amount owed by the non-custodial parent by a certain percentage if the custodial parent has at least some earning capacity. For example, a court may say that the father is required to pay 75% of the 17% and the mother is responsible for the remaining 25% of the 17%.
The state-specific laws and math can make one’s head spin. It is times like these that a child support lawyer can ensure the laws are being followed correctly. The non-custodial parent’s lawyer can ensure they aren’t paying too much and the custodial parent’s lawyer can make sure that they are paying enough.
There are some states which set caps upon the amount a child needs each year for support. In some states, the capped amount is around $13,000. In other states, there is no cap on, and the parent with custody could end up getting a windfall.
In states with caps, there are usually exceptions to the rules. In these states, the court might ignore the cap if the child has special medical needs requiring more financial support. The court could also overrule the cap if the child attends a private school that is expensive.
Further Info on the Monthly Payment Calculation
The court will look at numerous factors in determining how much each parent must pay towards support. In many cases, these involve looking at actual income a parent received during the year. In other situations, this could include looking at a parent’s earning capacity.
Sources of Income
The court can look at all sources of income when determining the amount of child support. The court’s analysis gathers information from various income sources:
- Wages from a job
- Retirement benefits and pensions
- Unemployment or disability pay
- Prizes or awards
- Bank accounts
- Any other money coming in
Concerning salary, some states look at gross salary while others look at net income. Net income is income minus federal tax, state and local tax, Medicare and social security deductions, etc.
Earning capacity is how much a person can make given their age, work history, education, past jobs, etc.
How does a court decide whether to use income or earning capacity? There is no universal rule or test a court applies. Instead, it’s a judgment call the judge makes. In this type of situation, where the court has to make a judgment call, a lawyer experienced in child support law is invaluable. The lawyer knows which arguments would be persuasive with a particular judge and which would be a dead end. With the right arguments, the judge might be persuaded to increase or decrease the earning capacity of one spouse.
How a Child Support Lawyer Can Help
Here are just a few of the different ways that a child support lawyer can help with the process:
Help Determine if an Unemployed Parent Must Pay
A child support lawyer can help in a situation where a parent might have to pay child support but doesn’t have a job. It could be that the parent recently lost their job, or maybe they have never had a job. The child support lawyer knows what the laws are in the relevant state and has experience in dealing with these types of situations.
Help Determine if a Parent Must Pay the Child’s Healthcare
In most states, parents are required to provide health insurance for their children through the child support agreement. But that is just the general overview of the rule. The specifics depend heavily on state law and with any rule, there are many exceptions. A child support lawyer should have experience with these issues and know of the exceptions.
Help in Situations Where a Parent Doesn’t Pay
What happens when someone doesn’t pay child support? When a parent doesn’t pay, the court often holds the non-paying parent in contempt. The punishment increases are more and more payments are missed. Ultimately, the punishments could turn into jail or large fines. As a further penalty, a court might garnish a parent’s wages if enough payments are missed. That means that an employer will automatically deduct a certain amount from the parent’s weekly salary and send it to the other parent. Finally, missing too many child support payments is a felony which has serious consequences.
In all of these situations, a child support attorney can help. The attorney should have a firm understanding of the state laws for child support and can advise you on your specific situation.
Negotiate the Agreement
Child support doesn’t have a standard document for the agreement. The document itself is a custom agreement between the parties and guided by the courts. A lawyer can help negotiate, within limits drawn by a court, specifics of the agreement. When a parent tries to do this without a lawyer, they lose the years of experience that a lawyer has in creating these agreements.
Help with Paperwork
The rules and requirements for child support are cumbersome and time-consuming. In many states, numerous documents and records must be filled out. A parent must meet various filing deadlines for these documents; otherwise, the court could impose punishments. Instead of trying to do everything alone, hire a lawyer who can do the paperwork and time-consuming stuff themselves.
A lawyer has the experience and resources to help parents who owe child support and also help parents that are trying to collect child support.
An attorney can help track down the other parent if they’ve skipped town. They can also help identify areas of income which might be subject to a child support order. Maybe the other souse is hiding certain income and arguing that he cannot pay. A lawyer often has investigators who can research these claims using their own investigators.
When a parent is on the other end and must pay child support, there are still many ways a lawyer can help. Not only can they help with the negotiation and paperwork, as discussed above, but they can also try to lower the monthly support amounts. There are special circumstances which may be a reason to reduce the monthly amount. A lawyer can help identify these things and petition a judge for a lower monthly payment.
How To Get A Child Support Lawyer
If you’ve come this far, then you should have enough general information about child support law to assist a lawyer in advising you about your specific situation. Also, you should have a general idea about how a child support lawyer can help your situation.
But before you start searching for a local child support lawyer, there is one more step you should take. We highly recommend reading our guide about how to get a lawyer. In the guide, you will learn many things about how to get a lawyer. Here is an example of what you will learn:
- How to find a lawyer experienced with child support law.
- How to research the lawyer’s background.
- Questions to ask before an initial consultation.
- Questions to ask during an initial consultation.
- Observations to record about the lawyer
- How to decide whether to hire
the childsupport lawyer.
Once you read this guide, you should be prepared to hire a lawyer to help with your child support needs.