Child Support Payment FAQ

Child support can be one of the most contentious topics in a divorce or custody case. Continue reading for answers to commonly asked questions about child support payments.

Is a Stepparent Obligated to Financially Support a Stepchild?

In most cases, no. The law requires parents to support their children financially, regardless of marital status. In cases where parents are divorced, the court will determine each parent’s financial responsibility with the state child support formula. A stepparent’s income is not typically included in the child support calculation.

While most states exclude a stepparent's income for child support purposes, some courts will consider it when determining how much income a parent has available for support. For example, if the new spouse (stepparent) covers all of the parent's monthly expenses and costs, then a court may determine that the parent has more income available for child support and could increase the monthly obligation.

Not all states believe that a stepparent shouldn’t contribute. In fact, a few states have created laws that require a stepparent to support children if the custodial parent can't. For example, in Delaware, in cases where the parents are unable to provide for their minor child’s needs, a stepparent (or person who cohabits in the relationship of husband and wife with the parent) will be under a duty to provide for that child's minimum financial needs as long as that stepparent continues in the relationship and lives with the child. (Delaware Annotated Code §13, Chapter 5, §501(b).)

Do I Have to Pay Child Support If My Ex Keeps Me Away From My Kids?

Yes. With only a few exceptions, biological parents must financially support their children. It’s important not to confuse child support with custody and parenting time. Once the court issues a child support order, you must abide by it, or risk penalties from the court, like fines, loss of driver’s or professional licenses, or jail time. If your ex-spouse is refusing to abide by the custody and visitation order, you should file a motion for contempt of court, or a parenting time complaint with your court.

If you need assistance with establishing an appropriate child support order, you should contact a family law attorney in your area.

How Long Must Parents Support Their Children?

It’s no surprise that most parents feel an obligation to always support their children, even as adults. Parental guilt aside, the law only requires biological parents to financially provide for their children until the child reaches the age of majority. In most states, once the child turns 18, both parents are relieved of the obligation to pay child support. However, some states require you to continue supporting your child through high school, and in some states, through college, well after the child reaches 18. For example, parents in Michigan are required to continue paying child support until the child reaches 19 1/2, but only if the child is still living with the custodial parent while attending high school.

You don’t have to financially support your children if the court terminates your parental rights through a court hearing. Whether you consent to the termination to allow another person to adopt your child, or if the court finds you guilty of abuse or neglect, in most cases, your responsibility to pay for the child will end. It’s important to understand that if you’ve accrued past-due child support (arrearages) with the state, you’ll still be responsible for payment of any money due (unless the court grants you a waiver.)

If your child is emancipated, you will no longer need to pay child support. Emancipation can only occur when your child files a formal request with the court, and the judge will only approve the application if the child can demonstrate freedom from parental control or support, meaning the child can live without the parents or state financial support. In other words, your child must prove the ability to rent an apartment, get a job, and pay bills without help. In most states, if your child joins the military as active duty, the court will consider your child to be emancipated.

Keep in mind that the court can't personally monitor your case or your child’s military status. If you would like to terminate child support, you will need to file a motion (request) with the court explaining the circumstances. If you wait, child support will continue until the judge rules otherwise.

Do Fathers Have the Same Rights to Child Support as Mothers?

Yes. If you're a father and have custodial rights for your children, you have the right to request support from the other parent. Child support doesn’t discriminate between genders, so each parent has an equal obligation to support their children financially.

If you're raising children with a same-sex spouse, the court will use the same formula to determine child support as with opposite-sex couples. The primary factor in every support case is each parent’s income and the time spent with the child.

Is a Father Who Never Married the Mother Still Required to Pay Child Support?

Although most couples find child support confusing, when you look at the basics, it’s simple: the law requires both biological parents—whether they were married to one another or not—to support their children financially, unless the child reaches the age of majority, enlists in the military, is emancipated, or the court terminates the parent’s rights.

However, before a court orders child support, the judge must first determine that you are the biological parent of the child. Many unmarried fathers acknowledge paternity at the hospital by voluntarily signing a declaration of paternity (sometimes called an affidavit). Others are determined to be a biological parent after a paternity suit, which is where one parent (or the state) files suit and the proposed father participates in a genetic test.

If you receive court paperwork in the mail that lists you as a potential father, don’t ignore it. If you miss a critical deadline, the court may enter a default judgment against you. A default judgment could mean that you’re on the hook for child support, even if you’re not the biological parent.

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