What is Child Support and How is it Determined?

In a divorce proceeding where minor children are involved, the Court may order (and usually does) one of the parents to pay to the other parent funds to be used to support their children. These funds are commonly referred to as Child Support. Although the Court will take into consideration an agreement between the parties for child support, any such agreement will be nullified by the Court if it does not provide for the proper care and maintenance of the children.

Depending upon the state, some of the factors considered by courts in deciding whether (and how much) child support is to be paid by one spouse to the other include:
(1) the ages of the children;
(2) a child's extraordinary medical costs or needs that are not paid by insurance;
(3) the children's educational costs;
(4) the children's day care costs;
(5) the amount of shared physical custody, including extended visitation;
(6) a party's other support obligations to another household;
(7) income that should be imputed to a party because of voluntary "suppression" of income (i.e. when one party won't get a job just to avoid paying child support);
(8) in-kind income for the self-employed, such as reimbursed meals or a company car;
(9) other support a party is providing or will be providing, such as payment of a mortgage;
(10) a party's own extraordinary needs, such as medical expenses;
(11) extreme economic circumstances, such as one party having a ton of debt or making a ton of money;
(12) the history of the family's spending for their children;
(13) cost of living factors in the community of each party;
(14) in-kind contributions of either party;
(15) the income of the custodial parent;
(16) the cost of accident and illness insurance coverage for the dependent children; and
(17) extraordinary travel expenses to exercise visitation or shared physical custody.

Modification of Child Support
In most states, an order for child support may be modified by showing that a substantial change in the income and financial status of either former spouse has occurred. Also, modification may be ordered when the needs of the children have substantially changed and the best interests of the child would be served by the modification.

Enforcing a Child Support Order
Failure to make the required child support payments can result in a continuing writ of garnishment against the income of the delinquent former spouse. In many states, the Court may also suspend the delinquent spouse's professional and driver's licenses or have the delinquent spouse thrown in jail for failing to comply with a Court Order (i.e. contempt of court).

Given the complexities that go along with divorces involving children, you are best off hiring an attorney to handle such a divorce. As a practical matter, it is much easier to get what you want in the original child support order than to try to modify the order later.
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