By Atty Jason C. Crump
Conventional wisdom is that a child who receives custodial, emotional, spiritual, and financial support from both parents in a two-parent household is more likely to succeed in life. Whether or not this is true is debated in numerous books and articles by sociologists and child psychologists. But what really happens when one parent is absent from the household and the custodial parent has to raise the child or children without financial support from the other parent? U.S. public policy dictates that both parents have an obligation to provide financial support to their children. In a perfect world this obligation would be respected and routinely fulfilled by every parent. But in our imperfect world financial support of minor children is all too often contentious.
Because U.S. child support laws are state-specific, this article is intended to give custodial parents a general idea of what to do and what to expect if you have one of these questions. For specific guidance on your rights and obligations, please check with an attorney or child support enforcement agency in your jurisdiction.
Here are ten things to know:
1. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I BECOME PREGNANT, DO NOT KNOW THE FATHER OF MY CHILD, AND NEED FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR MY NEWBORN?
If you are in the unfortunate position of having to determine the father of your child, you may have no choice but to file a complaint for child support against all persons who potentially may have fathered your child. In most jurisdictions, if fatherhood is not acknowledged through parental affidavit, you or your counsel will want to file a motion with the court to obtain a court order to establish parentage through DNA testing. Once parentage is established, the court will dismiss the complaint against the potential fathers.
2. WHO CAN ASSIST ME IN LOCATING THE OTHER PARENT TO COLLECT SUPPORT IF I CANNOT AFFORD AN ATTORNEY?
Every jurisdiction in the United States has a government agency that prosecutes and enforces the collection of child support payments. If you cannot afford an attorney to prosecute a complaint for child support on your behalf, contact your local state attorney general’s office or child support enforcement agency. The child support enforcement division of that agency or the attorney general, depending on the jurisdiction, will prosecute the child support case on your behalf. Depending on the jurisdiction, you might have to pay fees but they will likely be minimal compared with an attorney’s fee.
3. HOW DO I START THE CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENT COLLECTION PROCESS?
A case for child support payment is initiated by filing a complaint or petition for child support in the jurisdiction where you reside. You must have the noncustodial parent’s address so that he or she can be served with the complaint or petition for child support. The child support enforcement agency can also help you locate the noncustodial parent. The summons and complaint can be delivered by any person over the age of 18, a local sheriff, marshal, or process server. Once the noncustodial parent has been served, he or she must answer the complaint within a specific time period. The court will then set a hearing date that each party is obliged to attend. Should the noncustodial parent deny parentage, the court will then order that paternity be established. After paternity is established, the court will set a hearing date to determine the amount of the child support payment.
4. HOW MUCH CHILD SUPPORT CAN I COLLECT?
Child support payments are set by guidelines that take into account the monthly net income of the noncustodial parent, his or her monthly expenses, and other children the parent is actively raising. Because every parent’s financial circumstances are different, calculations will vary. The amount of monthly child support payments will depend on the noncustodial parent’s financial situation. If there is a material change in the noncustodial parent’s monthly net income; the calculation will be adjusted accordingly once the court is aware of the change.
5. HOW LONG WILL I BE ABLE TO COLLECT CHILD SUPPORT FOR MY CHILD/CHILDREN?
Depending on the jurisdiction, child support can be collected until the child reaches the “age of majority,” which is usually 18 years old, or 21 years old, depending on the jurisdiction. If the child continues his or her education beyond high school, you might be able to continue collecting support. This will depend on the jurisdiction in which child support is sought.
6. WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE OTHER PARENT FLEES THE STATE OR LEAVES THE COUNTRY OR IS IN JAIL?
If the noncustodial parent moves to another state, the state where you filed the petition for child support will maintain personal jurisdiction over the parent. The state where the parent fled will give full faith and credit to the state in which enforcement is sought. This means that regardless of whether the parent leaves the state where the petition is filed, you will still be able to collect support because the state where that parent resides will recognize the child support judgment. Consult an attorney in your jurisdiction on the procedure in your state to obtain support from a parent residing in another state.
Should the noncustodial parent leave the country, a different set of issues may arise. Most countries that are members of the United Nations recognize child support policy. The United States has a reciprocity agreement with some of these countries. This agreement allows you to sue for child support even though the noncustodial parent has left the United States. Nevertheless, when attempting to sue for child support in another country, or when enforcing a support order in the country that the noncustodial parent has fled to, it is very important that you seek guidance from an attorney or child support enforcement official who has knowledge of the international laws that may apply
Should the noncustodial parent be incarcerated, in all likelihood you can still sue him or her for child support but it is highly unlikely that you will be able to enforce a support order against this parent.
7. WHAT CAN I DO IF THE OTHER PARENT STOPS PAYING SUPPORT?
If the noncustodial parent stops paying child support, you, your case worker, or lawyer has the option to file a lien against his or her real or personal property and/or garnish his wages (up to a limited amount). You also have the right to collect any arrearages from his federal income tax return.
8. WHAT HAPPENS IF THE OTHER PARENT LOSES HIS OR HER JOB AND CAN NO LONGER PAY SUPPORT?
If the noncustodial parent loses his or her job, the custodial parent has the ability to attach a lien against the noncustodial parent’s unemployment insurance benefits if he or she is entitled to any.
9. If I GET MARRIED OR REMARRY, AM I STILL ENTITLED TO SUPPORT PAYMENTS FROM THE OTHER PARENT?
If you get married or remarry, you are still entitled to child support payments. But if your spouse elects to adopt your child and parentage has not been established, your rights to collect support against the noncustodial parent could terminate. Consult a local attorney to seek specific guidance should this happen because your rights may vary from state to state.
10. DO I HAVE TO REPORT CHILD SUPPORT AS INCOME TO THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE?
No. Child support payments are not taxable income according to the latest revisions of the Internal Revenue Code.
Jason C. Crump, Esq. is a founding member of the National Law Group (NLG) – the first and only Black-owned coalition of law firms that offers legal services to customers nationwide. To be legally represented for Child Support, Child Custody and other matters such as Divorce, Criminal Law, Personal Injury, and Medical Malpractice, call (866) 654-2727 or visit http://www.NLGattorneys.com or http://www.BlackLawyers.NET