South Carolina Child Support

South Carolina child support may be ordered by a court order from a judge or by an administrative order. Both a court order and an administrative order are legally enforceable. Each mandates that the non-custodial parent pay a certain amount of support to the parent who takes care of the child on a regular basis.

To get either a court order or an administrative order in the state of South Carolina, a custodial parent may contact the Child Support Enforcement division (CSED) of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The regional office of the Child Support Enforcement Division where parents may seek help can be located on the CSED website.

The CSED will assist in locating a non-custodial parent whose whereabouts is unknown. The CSED will also help to prove paternity in the event that the child's father has not acknowledged his role. Once the father has been located and established, the CSED will schedule either a negotiation conference or a court hearing in order to formally establish an order of support.

Parents may also obtain an order of support from the court directly in an independent court action or as part of a divorce hearing or hearing to determine custody/paternity. The CSED will not assist parents with custody or divorce issues, so those seeking help with these matters will need to speak with a family law attorney.

How is Child Support Calculated?

The South Carolina Code section 43-5-580(b) mandates that uniform guidelines exist to determine child support in the state, and section 20-7-852(a) specifies that there is a rebuttable presumption that these guidelines apply in all cases where support is determined. The state of South Carolina uses the "Income Shares" model in their guidelines to determine how much support a child is entitled to.

This means that if parents create their own support agreement out of court as part of a divorce or other proceeding and their agreed-upon amount of support differs from the guidelines, a judge will approve this deviation only if there is a compelling reason to do so that is in the best interests of the child.

According to the Income Shares model applied by South Carolina, child support is calculated by adding up the parent's combined adjusted gross monthly income. This step is important because children who have separated parents are entitled to receive as much financial support each month towards their basic care as children whose parents reside together. The State of South Carolina thus provides a table called the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations that lists different income levels and how much parents at those income levels spend on one child, two, three, four, five and six children.

The combined adjusted monthly gross income of the parents that is used with the Child Support Obligation Table can be calculated by first adding up money earned from all sources by either parent. Then, subtractions are made for taxes, required deductions such as mandatory union dues, and for any existing support payments for other children or former spouses that either parent is currently making. The combined adjusted gross income arrived at using this method is referenced on the table to determine how much, in total, the child or children should be getting each month from both parents combined.

Each parent is assumed to be responsible for a portion of the basic monthly care costs that is equal to the portion of the total family income he earns. A parent who earns 30 percent of the family income, for example, is responsible for paying 30 percent of the basic costs. The non-custodial parent, therefore, will have to pay his percentage of basic costs in the form of child support to the custodial parent.

The non-custodial parent is assumed to spend some of this money on his or her child if the child spends any significant amount of time in his care. As such, there is a reduction in the basic support the non-custodial parent must pay if he has sufficient visitation time.

The non-custodial parent is also expected to contribute to the medical costs and childcare costs associated with raising his or her children. These costs are thus added to the basic support obligation to determine the total amount that the non-custodial parent must pay.

Enforcement of Child Support

When child support is ordered, it is enforced through income withholding. This means that the money is ordered to be automatically withdrawn from the paycheck of the paying parent by his employer. This helps to ensure that non-custodial parents pay as required. When a non-custodial parent changes jobs, he or she is required to notify the clerk of the court so that a change to the income withholding can be made to collect the income from the new employer.

Unfortunately, sometimes it will still be difficult or impossible to collect child support, especially if the non-custodial parent does not properly report his place of employment. The CSED and the courts use a number of techniques to attempt to enforce support obligations including a contempt of court citation; criminal charges; suspension of a driver's license; judgments or liens on property; and suspension of driver's or professional licenses.

Modification of Child Support

Child support orders may be reviewed every 36 months to determine if modification is appropriate. Requests may also be made to CSED to modify a support order if there has been a significant change in the circumstances of either parent or child that affects the amount of support that should be paid. CSED may make a change or assist in petitioning the court for a change. In some cases, parents may also petition the court directly.

Getting Legal Help

Obtaining child support is not always straightforward and although CSED aims to help residents throughout South Carolina, they do not represent the parents or provide them with legal advice. CSED also offers no services related to custody or divorce issues. As such, parents with more complex claims or who have other legal issues at stake are typically best served by seeking assistance from an experienced family law attorney.