Child Support

Welcome to the Child Support department of Divorce and FamilyLawService Center. Here we will discuss the definition of child support and go over generally what the states offer as guidelines in determining child support orders. We will discuss when child support orders may need to be modified, as circumstances change. We will also go over enforcement options when child support goes unpaid and some resources that may help your child receive what is rightfully theirs.

Child Support Defined

Every child has the legal right to support from both parents whether the parents are married, divorced, or have never been married. Child support is the money afforded to a child because of that legal right. If in the child custody agreement, sole custody was granted to one parent, the child support would be defined as the money the non custodial parent pays to the primary custodial parent for the benefit of a child. In a joint custody agreement, child support may be defined as the money one parent pays to the other for the benefit of a child. If the parents of a child were never married, once paternity is established (please see the Paternity department for more information), child support would be given to the primary custodial parent by the non custodial parent.

The money given for a child’s benefit would cover food, shelter, clothing, health and medical care, and education costs among other things.

Child Support Guidelines

Each state has their own guidelines for determining the amount of child support to order. Generally, the amount is calculated based on the non-custodial parent’s income or their ability to earn income and the number of children. The family court can deviate from these guidelines if it is in the best interests of the child.


Modifications to the child support order can occur if a substantial change in circumstances can be proven. A reduction in support may happen when the person paying the child support loses their job and will not be able to replace the income in the near future. The payor should change the child support order as soon as possible because the payments build up quickly. The money it will cost will be easily offset by the lower payments and the future avoidance of enforcement agencies. Conversely, an increase in support could happen if the payor receives a new higher paying job. The child may also have a substantial change in circumstance due to medical, special educational classes, or other reasons that may mean an increase in support. There are some states that reviewschild support orders every few years to make sure the order is consistent with the current income and circumstances of all parties involved.


It used to be left up to the parents to make sure child support orders were paid. With growing rates of divorce and single motherhood in this country, it became necessary for the government to get more involved in protecting the right of a child in getting support from both parents.

The most common way for state and federal governments to enforce child support orders, whether they are current or past due, is wage deduction orders. Since 1994, all new child support orders were to be provided by automatic deduction of wages, unless signed otherwise by both parties. The court can also waive automatic deduction, but even with these waivers, language can be placed in the child support order stating that if the parent obligated to pay falls 30 days behind, then automatic deduction will be implemented. This strategy works best in collecting support when the person is regularly employed and infrequently changes jobs. At the start of a new job the new employer must be served with a deduction notice before wages can be withheld.

Another way to obtain past due child support payments is through tax refunds. State and federal refunds can be seized to cover that past due amount. State governments can also place liens on property such as real estate or automobiles.

Certain licenses (driver’s and professional: lawyer, doctor) can also be withheld for renewal to try to force the situation along in the right direction. This strategy is handled administratively. Hopefully the threat of the loss of license is enough enforcement to receive payments. But if the threats are not enough and actual action results in the loss of license(s), then the future child support payments could possible be lessened to the degree that the loss of license correlates with the parent’s ability to earn money.

The court can also find the parent who refuses to pay child support in contempt of court. This would mean the person is willfully disobeying a court order and could result in jail time and/or a fine.


For more information on the Child Support Enforcement Program, the Uniform Family Support Act, or the Federal Parent Locator Service please visit the Enforcement department here at Divorce and FamilyLawService Center.