As you go through a divorce, if you and your spouse have children together, one major decision that you have to make includes parental access. Child custody cases have a nasty reputation. But, not all are mean-spirited and drawn out. As stated in the previous section, you have several options when determining child custody. Regardless of what you want, you should be thinking about what is in the best interest of your child.
In some cases, depending on the setup of parental access, this will mean that one parent pays child support to the other. You’ve probably seen movies where child support gets paid after a divorce. Or, you might know someone who pays child support. But what exactly is it, and how is it determined? If you have been asked to pay child support, you need to know what is expected of you.
What is Child Support?
Child support is usually a fixed amount of money. You pay it in order to care for and support your child after divorce. Just as with spousal support, child support is temporary and will last until the child turns 18 or graduated from high school, whichever is later. Child support is awarded to the custodial parent. Child support is based specifically on financials of the parties. It is a calculation that takes into account the parties’ incomes, payment of certain additional fees such as health insurance and union dues, and the amount of children from the marriage.
Divorce oftentimes represents a big change for children. Many children feel like their lives have been uprooted when they learn that their parents are getting a divorce. Child support is meant to help children through this difficult time by allowing them to maintain their standard of living from before the divorce. This helps them adjust to their new lifestyle and allows aspects of their lives to remain the same.
In Connecticut, child support is mandatory by statute and is dependent on a calculation system and the numbers do not have much flexibility. The party that will pay child support is the non-custodial parent. The parent that has primary custody of the child will not be asked to pay child support because they will be living with and providing for the child on a regular basis.
Child Support and Court
If you have to take your case to court, the judge will generally ask you to provide a financial statement. This will help the judge presiding over your case understand your financial situation. Your spouse will be asked to provide the same information, giving the judge a complete picture of the financial situation involved in the case.
When determining who pays child support, and how much is paid, the court may take a few other factors into consideration. Most importantly, the needs of your child will be considered. How much money is required to adequately support your child will determine how much money is to be paid. But how is this figure determined? As I briefly touched on before, an evaluation of you and your spouse’s income will be done to determine your financial situation. Child support is calculated based on both parents’ gross income.
Deductibles can be made from both the mother and the father’s income in order to determine what they can realistically afford to pay in terms of child support. Some deductibles that might be taken into account are the value of a federal dependency exemption (if applicable), the sum of income tax that is actually paid, and alimony or child support that are being paid from a separate divorce.
Once these factors are taken into consideration, the gross income is adjusted to a more realistic number, and this number is applied to a chart. This chart will help determine how much child support is needed by evaluating the income category that you are in and how much money a child typically needs within this category.
Once Child Support is Determined
Child support is a court order and once it is put into place, you will be legally bound to make these payments. If you are asked to make child support payments, you will be in contact with the child support division of the court. In order to check up on you, regular compliance reviews can be filed with the child support division. Support Enforcement Services can monitor your child support payments, if necessary.
If you have a history of making payments that are not on time, you will probably receive a reminder from this division before your child support payments are due. If you fail to make your child support payments, the child support division of the court can file a contempt proceeding.
Failure to Pay
Failing to pay your child support payments can be very serious. In some cases, you could face incarceration. This can happen if a court determines that you intentionally violated a court order for child support. The court can imprison you for this. They will set an amount that you must pay in order to be released from incarceration. In most cases, the possibility of incarceration alone will make people pay their child support.
However, this is not always the case. If the child support division feels that you are in contempt of the court and you are knowingly refusing to make your child support payments, a hearing will be scheduled. During this hearing, the child support division will show cause as to how you are in contempt of the court. It will have to be proven that you received notice of your child support payments, that you have the ability to pay, and that you refused to do so during this hearing. At this hearing, you have the right to show cause as to why you are not in contempt of the court. If you are called in for such a hearing, you should consider contacting an attorney to represent you in court, as losing this case could mean jail time.
As you can see, you will face serious consequences if you disregard court ordered child support and refuse to pay it. The best thing that you can do is to pay the support in order to avoid problems. You do not want to risk serving jail time for failure to pay child support. If the child support division contacts you about problems with your child support payments, make sure that you pay the child support immediately.
What Enforces Child Support?
The child support division of the court will try to get the non-custodial parent to pay child support voluntarily. You will be in direct correspondence with the child support division if you are supposed to make child support payments. This particularly happens if these payments are late. If you are not making your child support payments, the child support division might threaten you with contempt proceedings. In some cases, you could face incarceration if you refuse to pay child support. Regular compliance reviews will be filed with the child support division, and if you have a history of late payments, you will probably receive a reminder from this division when your child support payments are due.
If you are found to intentionally violate a court order for child support, the court may find you in contempt. The court has the right to incarcerate you if you knowingly refuse to pay child support.
Changes in Situation
Remember – child support is based on your income. So, if you are not paying your child support because you have lost your job or your income decreases, you need to immediately notify the court. The court can make a modification to your child support plan if it knows what is going on. However, if you do not update the court with your financial standings, you can be charged with refusal to pay child support.
Ideally, the court will be able to determine child support payments that you can afford. However, this is not always the case. Certain expenses may be unpredictable or they may not be included in the initial determination of your finances. You can talk to your attorney about what you can and cannot afford.
Modifications of Child Support
The Court always retains jurisdiction over issues relating to the custody and well-being of minor children. Any orders relating to child support can be modified upon a showing of a “substantial change in circumstances.” Conn. Gen. Stat. §46b-86. When reviewing child support orders, the courts use a benchmark of a 15% deviation from the guidelines. This determins whether a change in circumstances qualifies as “substantial”. If it is time to revisit your support order based on a changed financial situation, please contact us.
When You Don’t Have to Pay
In most divorce cases, the non-custodial parent will have to pay child support until their child is an adult. A child is considered an adult when they graduate from high school or turn 18. But, they are an adult at no time later than when they turn 19. Events such as remarriage or moving out-of-state are not excuses to stop paying child support.
Likewise, if your child moves out-of-state, this does not mean that you can stop paying child support. If your child moves out-of-state, the new state will enforce your child support order. Federal law requires child support enforcement agencies in different states to help one another collect child support. Collecting child support when the non-custodial parent and the child live in different states is more difficult.
It can take more time for the payments to be received and distributed. So, these agencies help each other collect the support and make the process as easy as possible. If your child moves you might be unsure how to make your child support payments. If this happens, you can contact the child support enforcement division. This division of the court will help any parent or guardian who has a child under the age of eighteen. They will do their best to make sure that child support reaches the child in a timely manner.
If, on the other hand, you are a parent seeking child support from your ex-spouse who now lives in another state, you have two ways that you can go about collecting it. The first way is to ask the court to set a child support order if your ex-spouse hasn’t been making payments since they moved. This option is to have a legal document sent to the state where your ex-spouse lives. This petition will alert your ex-spouse to the fact that they need to continue paying the child support. Moving out of state is not a valid excuse to stop paying child support. But, there are some other cases where you can stop making payments before your child is an adult.
Remember that these situations where child support stops are relatively rare. Another way that you will be relieved of your child support duties is if your child becomes an emancipated minor. If your child is emancipated, this means that they are legally separated from both parents. In this case you will no longer be expected to provide for this child. Another event that could terminate your responsibility to pay child support is marriage. Marriage before the age of eighteen can affect child support. At this point, it will be the responsibility of your child’s spouse to take care of them.
One other way that your obligation to pay child support can end is if your child enters the armed services. When this happens, they might be placed on active duty. If there is a termination of a party’s parental rights, this will stop child support.
Obviously, in any of these situations, you can still make the choice to help support your child. However, you will not be legally bound to do so. Likewise, in the case that you want to continue supporting your child after he or she is legally considered an adult, this is possible. It will be up to you to continue making child support payments or to terminate at this point. Many parents choose to help their children pay for college or rent their first apartment. If you want to, you could continue paying child support while your child is in their twenties.
Does State Assistance Affect Child Support?
If a party is on state assistance, the State may have an interest in your case. When a party files for any type of family proceeding that may create a child support obligation, the State of Connecticut might have a say in the amount of child support a party owes. Parties receiving child support who are on state assistance should be aware of certain things. A portion of the child support may be held by the state to balance what the receiving party gets in benefits. Also, if a party isn’t paying child support but the child is on state assistance, the state has the ability to enforce child support, as the petitioner in the action.
If you feel that you cannot support your child, you can apply to a federal program. You might apply to a program such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This program will provide cash assistance for families who have children in need. Keep in mind that TANF or welfare benefits are not substitutes for child support. Even if you receive public aid, you still have to pay child support if you have a court order.
Shared Parenting and Child Support
“Shared physical custody” is a situation where the non-custodial parent exercises care and control of the child. This happens “for periods substantially in excess of a normal visitation schedule”. A common misunderstanding is that parents do not have to pay child support in shared parenting situations. Shared custody means that both parents share all parenting responsibilities, including financial responsibilities.
Each parent is therefore required to provide a portion of all the housing, food, clothing, education, medical, and social expenses of the child. This can be accomplished, for example, by setting out specifically the terms of the shared financial responsibilities in the judgment (decree) or by pegging one parent’s share of the expenses to the child support guidelines.
Whether the shared financial arrangement between the parties is flexible or fixed will depend on the particular circumstances of the parties and how well they work together on parenting and financial issues.