Divorce brings with it a number of challenges, and child support is a major one. If you and your spouse have made the difficult decision to go your separate ways, your children are likely your number one priority. Whether your divorce will proceed through the proper channels of the legal system or you and your spouse plan to work it out amicably among yourselves, you should both be aware of child support laws and requirements.
The first step is coming to an agreement. If your divorce is administered through the courts, the court will issue an order of child support, which sets out how much is paid per month and by whom. If you and your spouse can come to an agreement without the assistance of the court system, then you can write up your own agreement; it is always a good idea to put such an agreement in writing and file it with the court. That way, if it becomes necessary at any point down the road, you can enlist the court’s assistance in enforcing your agreement.
Regardless of whether your child support is decided by the court or agreed to between you and your spouse, it can be changed in certain circumstances. Most states require a substantial reason for adjusting child support, but states do disagree on what constitutes “substantial.” Common reasons child support may be modified include:
- Changes in the child’s medical needs
- A substantial increase or decrease in a parent’s income
- A change in custody of the child
Child support is calculated based on income, so a change in income is the most common reason for a modification of child support to be requested. For example, if you got a divorce from your wife in 2013, but lost your job or got demoted in 2017, you could request a modification of child support from the court based on your substantial loss of income. If you came to your own child support agreement with your spouse but failed to file it with the court, it would be up to you and your spouse to work out a modification. This is yet another reason to file any agreements with the court. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and it’s always best to be able to use the court system to mediate any potential disputes should they arise in the future.
It is also important to keep in mind that some states have laws restricting the number of times child support can be modified and the frequency with which such requests can be made. For example, New York only allows you to request an adjustment in child support if it has been at least three years since the prior order was issued.
Length of Support and Ability to Collect
Child support is required to be paid until the “age of majority.” The “age of majority” is the age at which a child is no longer a minor. Again, states have their own laws governing the age of majority, but most states only require you to pay child support until your child is 18. Now, there are exceptions, such as if your child is still in high school and residing with the non-paying parent at the age of 18. In that case, some states will require child support be paid until the child turns 19. Also, some states will no longer require child support if the child gets married or joins the military.
One more thing to know about child support is its statute of limitations. Most states do not have a statute of limitations, meaning it is possible for a 90-year-old man to be ordered to pay child support for his 60-year-old son. There are some states, however, that do have a statute of limitations ranging from 10 – 20 years. So, if your spouse is in default on his or her child support payments, then the statute of limitations would restrict the length of time you have to collect that back child support.
Every state is different, and it’s imperative you learn your state’s laws because not only does the length of time differ from state to state, but when that clock starts ticking differs, too. For example, in New York, you have 20 years from the date of default to collect child support. But, in Idaho, you only have until your child turns 23 to make a claim for unpaid child support.
Each state has its own laws, but states do put a high priority on child support payments and ensuring they’re made in a timely manner, so don’t be afraid to reach out to the many resources most states provide for those seeking to enforce or enter into a child support agreement.
If you need legal help to navigate this confusing process, please find an experienced divorce attorney in your area and schedule a consultation today.