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Stepping Into The World Of Child Support

24th December 2009
By Lisa J. Peck in Divorce
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Have you ever stopped to consider what the words, "Child Support" really mean? Right away most of us probably think of money. And, yes, that's a major factor. But the money is simply a way of supporting your children among the many other ways you look after and care for your offspring. Unfortunately, after a divorce, child support can be a source of contention. This article is meant to be a general guide for you to use in case you need it.

The amount of support

Child support amounts can consist of an agreement decided upon in negotiations and/or mediation, or by a court decision concerning how much your child will receive from the person paying the support. The amount is set according to a percentage of the paying parent's income. Along with child support, the two divorcing parents can agree on who pays medical insurance, or the court may order one or both parents to provide insurance for the children, or require the non-custodial parent to help with medical bills.

Something a paying parent might not realize is that child support guidelines don't always base the monthly amount on what that parent earns. It can be based on what the parent is capable of earning. Education, job skills, and possible wages are all calculated. So if the paying parent takes a low-wage job to avoid making higher child support payments, the court may order a higher amount anyway.

Making Child Support payments

In an amicable divorce, the parents often handle the child support themselves and don't need help or involvement from the state-run child support agency. However, in many cases, the paying parent sends his or her monthly check through the agency. This is a good method to use if the paying parent suspects that the ex might lie in court and claim that he or she never paid. It's important for the non-custodial parent who is obligated to make monthly child support payments to protect him or herself.

Never make child support payments in the form of cash unless there is a receipt.

Child support and taxes

States work hard to help families receive the child support they deserve. It's to everyone's benefit, since families who get child support often don't need to receive public assistance; this obviously keeps taxes down.

There is a tax credit available to moderate and low-income working families and individuals. It's called the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit. It can provide a refund even to families with incomes so low that they don't owe any federal taxes.

To find out more information about this tax credit, you can call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040, or check out their website at

The federal umbrella

All states receive assistance, guidance and some money from the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, or OCSE. Additionally, OCSE can help locate parents.

The purpose of OCSE and the various state-run agencies is to cooperatively ensure that both parents support their children.

Generally, the state in which you live can offer help with the following issues:
• asking the court to order child support
• enforcing the child support decree
• collecting child support from parents living in other states
• setting-up income withholding with the paying parent's employer if necessary
• finding a missing parent
• helping establish legal paternity
• reviewing court orders if changes in fortune have occurred.

Most states work cooperatively with other states to find missing parents and acquire overdue payments. They have computer systems that can determine if a non-paying parent has a job or is receiving unemployment.

Sometimes there's disagreement about fatherhood. (We could be talking Jerry Springer here). In the most serious cases, the agencies can provide genetic testing to establish beyond doubt who the father is.

Attorneys, mediators and helpful websites

Attorneys can provide important child support information that parents need during and after their divorce; however, parents no longer have to depend solely upon attorneys. There is a lot of research available these days, thanks to the Internet. Remember, though, that child support laws vary by state. Each state has its own website dedicated to making information available about child support laws, issues, and requirements, and at (National Child Support Enforcement Association), you can find links to all fifty states.

On these state websites, there are child support calculators available to help you figure how much you should get or how much you may owe.

Custody and child support are such complicated issues with far-reaching repercussions, however, that it remains a good idea to retain an attorney who can help with the specifics.

To assist you in navigating the pitfalls and landmines of divorce, check out other articles, as well as newsletters and audiotapes on You can also order the book: Stop Marrying Mistakes, Using Principles to Claim a Healthy Relationship by Dr. Kevin B. Skinner, LMFT and Lisa J. Peck, on the same website.

How long child support lasts

Child support generally ends when a child reaches the age of maturity. This is usually eighteen, but in some states can be as high as age twenty-three, and where a child is incapacitated, child support can go on longer.

Review of existing child support orders

At times it becomes necessary to review child support. This can be done at the request of either parent and is performed by the local child support agency. In fact, every three years, both parents may be notified of their right to ask for a review.

Two things are examined in a review.

• Whether the ordered amount agrees with the state's guidelines
• If the order includes a provision for health insurance for the child if insurance is available at a reasonable cost

If the original order includes both of these details, the agency may not ask the court to change the order. If it doesn't, then the agency may ask for a change.

A review is done when:

• Either parent asks for a review and there has been no review for three years.
• A state agency requests the review. For instance, this can happen when the child is in foster care.
• The court orders a review
• The agency might agree to a special review if there has been a substantial change in circumstances, as when a parent is laid off or the child goes to live with someone else.

If a review is ordered, both parents will receive notice.

A change in child support

An adjustment can be made to child support because of special circumstances. The child support can go up or down due to the changes. It may also require one of the parents to contribute to health insurance.

If both parents agree to the change, the child support agency will submit the agreement to the court, which must make final approval. If the parents cannot agree, then the court will decide whether or not to make the change.

Child support agencies don't charge any fee for reviewing or changing the orders. However, the court clerk usually charges a modest filing fee, which the parent who requested the review pays.

When your ex doesn't pay

A sobering statistic from the National Child Enforcement Agency claims that our national child support debt is over $122 billion, and that 82% of this is not being collected by the federal government. If this statement is factual, it means that a staggering number of parents are struggling without any child support assistance.

Many times separated or divorced parents, both mothers and fathers, end up with little or no financial support from the other parent. If you're a divorced parent receiving regular child support checks from your ex, congratulate yourself. It's all too rare.

Ways to collect past due child support:

• The credit bureaus can be notified of the unpaid support, which will adversely affect the ex's credit.
• Support can be taken from tax refunds. In fact, Dennis Cauchon, who writes for USA Today, reports that 2 billion dollars of the economic stimulus checks from 2008 will be diverted to pay for child support, student loans and back taxes.
• Support can also be taken from lottery winnings.
• In some states, deadbeat parents can even lose their driver's license.
• The court might get involved, and if the ex refuses to search for a job, a jail sentence can be levied.
• In the worst cases, the district attorney brings criminal charges against the non-paying parent.
• In most states, those families who use food stamps, temporary assistance for needy families, and/or Medicaid, are allowed to receive free child support services to help them collect unpaid support.
• Check your state's child support website for suggestions and details by typing your state's name in your search engine.
• The child support agency involved in your case might ask the court to take action against the non-paying parent in a procedure called Judicial Enforcement. Charges, like civil contempt or criminal non-support, can be filed against the offending parent. If convicted, the parent can be fined or jailed.
• Laws now give child support agencies the ability to pursue what is called Administrative Enforcement. This allows the agency to take action without asking the court's permission.
• A tool called "Child Support Lien" can be used. This lien places a hold upon property until the overdue support is paid. If the child support lien isn't taken care of, it can be next to impossible to sell or transfer the property. If a lien is placed, the parent will be sent a "Notice of Lien and Credit Bureau Reporting." This will tell you the amount of the lien and explain your right to dispute.

Putting your children first

Our children deserve our support, financially, emotionally, and psychologically. Even if you can't be with them every day, even if you live in another country, send the child support check. Send pictures and letters too, and tell them you love them as often as you can. Someday, when they're grown and your relationship with them is fantastic, you'll know the extra effort was worthwhile. Whatever situation you are in, make a stand for your children.

21 free tips to Stop Marrying Mistakes. Lisa J. Peck invites you to enjoy and celebrate your own healthy relationship by stepping it up in every area of your life. For help on empowering yourself and recovering from divorce: visit Stop Marrying Mistakes
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