Child support agreements ensure a divorced couple’s children receive appropriate financial support from each parent. Generally, the parent with majority custody receives support payments from the noncustodial parent. The court has a duty to rule in the best interests of the children in all child custody and child support negotiations. Ultimately, the judge reviewing a child support case has the final say in the noncustodial parent’s support obligation.
Determining Child Support Payments
Most courts will require noncustodial parents to pay child support until their children reach the age of majority (18), until they complete their undergraduate education, or another specified time. If the custodial parent makes enough money to support the children on his or her own, the child support payment from the other parent will be much lower than it would if the custodial parent earned substantially less than the noncustodial parent.
A judge will refer to several factors in determining a parent’s support obligation.
- General cost of living. The court uses regional financial data to determine the average amount it costs to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the area.
- The noncustodial parent’s income. Higher-earning noncustodial parents pay much more in child support than custodial parents.
- The noncustodial parent’s behavior and ability to work. If the noncustodial parent is in jail, unable to work due to losing a job, faces criminal charges, or has a disability, the judge will also consider these factors in assigning child support obligations.
- The financial needs of the children. Every family has unique economic challenges, and the judge in a child support case will assess things like physical disabilities, special counseling, remedial education, or other aspects of a child’s life to determine specific economic issues.
- The level of engagement the noncustodial parent will have in the children’s lives. If the noncustodial parent shares custody closer to a 50/50 split, but the other parent remains in charge of major decisions on behalf of the children, the noncustodial parent’s support obligation could be lower.
Ultimately, the court’s job is to assess a noncustodial parent’s income and weigh it against the needs of his or her children to determine an appropriate amount of child support. However, divorcing parents should remember that a child support agreement is firm but flexible; either parent may have cause to petition for a child support modification at some point in the future.
How Do Child Support Modifications Work?
A child support modification alters an existing child support agreement with the consent of all parties involved due to a major economic or lifestyle change. A noncustodial parent may wonder how his or her child support obligation changes if he or she switches jobs or experiences another fluctuation in income. While a change of employment may reduce a noncustodial parent’s child support obligation, the change does not happen automatically, and he or she must petition the court for an official modification to the support agreement.
In some cases, a divorcing couple may decide upon terms of order modifications between them, and the judge reviewing the child support may approve of their terms. If you have a child support agreement with a clause concerning modifications, be sure to read it thoroughly before requesting any sort of change to your agreement. Also, remember that child support modifications do not apply retroactively; if the judge reduces your support amount from $300 per month to $200 per month, you would not receive reimbursement for the difference from previous payments. You would also need to abide by the terms of the original agreement as well until the judge approves the modification.
A family law attorney is a fantastic resource for anyone concerned about modifying a child support agreement. Ultimately, the court has the final say in what is in the best interests of the child of a divorced couple, but a judge must also be realistic about the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay and the actual financial needs of the child.