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Child Support

When married parents divorce or separate, or when only one of the unmarried parents has custody of a child, the court may order the non-custodial parent, or the one with whom the child does not live, to pay a certain portion of his or her income as child support. When the child is in the custody of both parents, however, and the parents are providing a reasonable level of support, the law usually does not interfere with or regulate the amount of financial support provided.

In the United States, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and almost one-fourth of all children are born to unmarried parents. As a result, the regulation of child support is an important social issue. Whereas once the arrangement for and payment of child support was left to the parents, now state child support enforcement agencies are taking an aggressive role in seeking payments from non-custodial parents. Frequently, the agency and the court will work together to implement a child support withholding order, by which the child support amount is automatically taken from the payer's paycheck. If the child support payments become delinquent, the agency can implement other collection mechanisms, such as withholding support amounts from tax refunds, or seizing real estate or personal property.

Child support orders are issued by the family court, which bases the amount of support on state child support guidelines. These guidelines establish the amount of required support, based largely on the non-custodial parent's income and the number of children. The court will also take into account other relevant factors, such as the custodial parent's income and the needs of the children. The court can deviate from the guidelines if there are significant reasons to do so. The fact that the custodial parent has a high income does not justify deviation from the guidelines; by law, children have the right to benefit from both parents' incomes. Child support can be increased if there is a change in circumstances justifying the increase, such as an increase in the payer's income or the cost of living, a decrease in the custodial parent's income or an increase in the child's needs. Similarly, the amount can be reduced if the circumstances justify the reduction.

In cases involving unmarried mothers seeking child support, the first step may be to legally establish the father's paternity of the child. The father can do this voluntarily, but if he does not the mother may need to bring a lawsuit to establish paternity, which is usually done using genetic (DNA) testing. The court will order the putative, or alleged, father to submit to the testing if he does not agree to do so voluntarily. Once paternity is established, the court will issue an order for child support.

When the non-custodial parent moves to another state, the custodial parent may have to rely on the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act to implement or ensure payment of child support. This Act provides the procedure by which a support order issued in one state can by enforced by the courts of another state.

A lawyer experienced in family law may assist a parent in obtaining an order for child support, and in enforcing the order once issued. Family law lawyers may also represent either parent in a support modification proceeding or in a proceeding to establish or disprove paternity. Given that the well-being of a child is at stake, child support issues are an important concern, and the assistance of an experienced lawyer is essential to the process.

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