Helping 20 Million Americans a Year for 20 Years. FREE!
Find the Right Lawyer for Your Legal Issue!

Find the Right Lawyer for Your Legal Issue!

Fast, Free, and Confidential

Call us today for a free consultation (855) 466-5776

What is child support?

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident law decisions. Finding trusted and reliable legal advice should be easy. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Child support is a form of support payment that is often ordered when two parents are no longer living together. It is in the best interest of any child to have financial support from both parents. It is also sound public policy to require that parents support their children so those children do not become wards of the state or otherwise dependent upon state run welfare or support programs. Child support may be ordered even in instances where a parent does not have contact with his or her child, unless that parent has legally surrendered parental rights with the permission of both the court and the other parent.

Who Pays Child Support?

Child support is paid by one parent to the other, either after a divorce, or between two parents who were never married. Normally, the non-custodial parent pays the support to the parent who has sole or primary physical custody. In other words, the parent who is not living with or raising the child will be required to pay a set amount each month toward the upkeep and care of the child. However, child support payments may also be ordered in joint custody situations as well. In these cases, one parent will usually have physical custody of the child a majority of the time, and the other parent will be required to make child support payments.

The child must always usually be the genetic child or the adopted child of the parent ordered to pay child support. For example, even if a stepparent pays for the child’s expenses while married to the child’s parent, at divorce or separation, the stepparent will generally not be required to pay the custodial parent child support for the child, unless there was a legal adoption.

How is Child Support Determined?

Child support is determined by looking at a variety of different factors, and these factors may vary slightly by state. However, a court will always consider the number of children involved, and the income of each parent, as well as each parent's earning potential. Also important to the courts child support determination is the amount of time the child spends living with each parent. For example, in a joint custody arrangement, child support may be reduced if the child spends a great deal of time with the non-custodial parent, since the parent will be presumably providing financial support and care for the child during the periods of time when the child is physically with him.

What is Child Support Supposed to be Used For?

Child support is an amount payable by one parent to the other to make sure that a child is cared for and shares in, to some degree, the standard of living enjoyed by both parents. The purpose of child support is to protect the child from the economic impact of divorce or separation. Therefore, child support should be used for both the basic necessities of the child, such as food, shelter, childcare, and education, as well as the additional things that the child enjoyed during the marriage.

Because one purpose of child support is to ensure that the child shares in the standard of living of both parents, child support may be used to improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children. For example, if the child has a wealthy parent, that child is entitled to and therefore arguably needs something more than the bare necessities of life. Where the supporting parent enjoys a lifestyle that far exceeds the custodial parent's living standard, child support must to some degree reflect that the supporting parent’s lifestyle. This is so even though, as a practical matter, the child support payments will incidentally benefit others in the custodial household whom the non-custodial parent has no obligation to support such as the custodial parent, the custodial parent's new spouse, and the custodial parent's other children. Even where the non-custodial parent is not wealthy, child support payments may benefit the custodial parent and anyone else living within the home, because child support payments can be used to pay for heat, electricity, cleaning supplies, travel costs and car maintenance, and other expenses needed to properly care for the child.

While the child should share the same standard of living as both parents, this does not necessarily mean that the custodial parent can make a huge financial decision for the child, and then force the non-custodial parent to share in the expense. Having said this, because this determination will depend greatly on a case-by-case basis, a non-custodial parent should keep in mind that they cannot necessarily get out of contributing to an expensive decision made by the custodial parent. Take for example if a situation where the custodial parent decides to send the child to an expensive private school. In these cases, the court will look at the factors of each situation to determine who should pay what share.


Join millions of Americans in starting your divorce online. Save thousands by avoiding the cost of an attorney.