How Child Support Works

In family law and public policy, child support (sometimes referred to as child maintenance) is a periodic payment made from one parent to the other for the monitorial benefit of the child following the end of a marriage. Child support is paid directly or indirectly by an ‘obligor’ to an ‘obligee’ for the care of the child or children of a divorced couple. The obligor is usually the non-custodial parent and the obligee is usually the caregiver or guardian.

Child support is based on the policy that both parents are obliged to financially support their children, even when the children are not living with both parents. Child support refers to the financial support of children and not other forms of support, such as emotional support, physical care, or spiritual support.

When children live with both parents, courts rarely, if ever, direct the parents how to provide financial support for their children. But when the parents are not sharing the children, courts often order one parent to pay the other an amount set as financial support of the child. In such situations, one parent (the obligee) receives child support, and the other parent (the obligor) is ordered to pay child support. The amount of child support may be set on a case-by-case basis or by set formula that estimates the amount those parents should be responsible to pay to financially support their children. Depending on the area, the care-giving parent may pay child support to the other parent.

Usually one has the same obligation to pay child support without concern to their gender, so a mother has to pay child support to a father just as a father must pay a mother. When there is joint custody, the child is considered as having two care givers and the parent that makes more money will pay the lower-income parent. Child support is often arranged as a part of the divorce, separation, or annulment and may supplement alimony payments. The right to child support and the responsibilities of both parents to provide support have been recognized internationally by the United Nations.

Child support amounts are often static and do not change except for if, say, the obligor had a change in income or faces other financial hardships. Then they may petition the court for a reduction in child support. Also, if the obligor is spending more time with their children they could petition the court for a reduction or even a reverse. Sometimes however, if the decrease in income is not due to the child, the court will not decrease child support. Legal intervention after a divorce is not mandatory and some parents have informal or voluntary agreements that do not involve the court system.

Calculating the Amount of Child Support Paid

Depending on where you live, there are different ways to calculate child support. Many jurisdictions consider multiple sources of information when determining the amount of child support, including the income of the parents, age and number of children living in the home, and the living expenses in that area. Guidelines for child support orders are sometimes based on laws that require obligors to pay a flat rate percentage of their annual income to their child’s expenses. The federal government requires all states to have their own guideline calculations that can be verified and certified. These are often computer programs based upon financial information.