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Child Support Basics


Child support is typically independent of other issues in a divorce, fixed by a formula established by divorce laws in your state. In some states, the standard child support calculation is based only on the income of the paying spouse. The child support guidelines established by each state may take into account:

  • Needs of the child
  • Ability of the noncustodial parent to support him or herself
  • Standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the family stayed together
  • Child support obligations for children from previous marriages
  • Extraordinary living expenses
  • College child support
  • Other relevant factors

Penalties For Refusing To Pay Child Support

In most states, child support orders are subject to automatic garnishment. As long as the noncustodial parent remains in the same job, non-payment does not become an issue.

A couple may divorce before garnishment orders were entered or may have divorced in a jurisdiction that doesn't enforce automatic wage garnishment. The paying spouse may have changed jobs or become unemployed. In such cases, the custodial parent typically has private recourse or can ask child support enforcement agencies to pursue unpaid child support.

If you don't pay child support, you may go to jail for contempt of court for violating the divorce decree or temporary support order. In many states, a seriously delinquent parent may also be charged with criminal non-support of a dependent. Governmental agencies charged with child support enforcement have a variety of other enforcement techniques, including suspending the non-paying parent's driver's license, revoking of any professional licenses or seizing income tax refunds.

Modifying Child Support

If there are legitimate reasons behind your inability to pay child support, you can petition the court to modify child support. A custodial parent can petition the court to modify the child support if circumstances warrant an increase in payments. Grounds to modify child support may include:

  • Significant reduction in income
  • Serious illness or disability
  • Change in child's circumstances
  • Change in the financial circumstances of the custodial parent

Many states also set statutory limits on how often child support can be modified.

Speak with a Local Lawyer about Child Support

Speak to a divorce lawyer about your child support case today and learn how to protect your child's financial future. Fill out a divorce case review form or call 877-349-1310 to connect with a divorce attorney in your area. Find out how your child custody order will be determined and what to do if you circumstances change.

Case Evaluation

The above summary of child support basics is by no means all-inclusive and is not intended to serve as legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on child support laws, speak to a local divorce lawyer in your state.