Child support and its enforcement have become a major social issue in this country today because of the high divorce rate. The number of fathers who get custody of their children is increasing, but it is still true that the majority of custodial parents are women. Pay rates for women still lag behind those for men, so that the amount of child support the custodial spouse receives is an important issue in divorce.

Every state in the union requires that both parents provide financial support for the child. The court attempts to maintain the standard of living the child enjoyed during the marriage. This is based on the notion that the child is the innocent party during a divorce and should not suffer because the parents can no longer maintain their relationship. At one time states left the matter of support to the parties; but because of the rate of divorce and its effect on children and their standard of living, today the state and child support agencies are much more aggressive in pursuing child support.

The amount of child support is determined by a formula looking at several factors:

  • A minimum level that each spouse needs for their own support;
  • The earning potential of each spouse, a non-working spouse will have income imputed to them;
  • Medical insurance needs;
  • Any special needs that the child or children may have;
  • Number of children;
  • Existing support orders for children outside the marriage;
  • Daycare costs if the custodial parent works.

Each state sets support guidelines, which take into account economic conditions within that state. Department of labor estimates of the average wage for occupations are used for cases where income has to be imputed for a spouse that has not worked. These guidelines are not set in stone and can be set aside for good cause. The fact that a custodial parent earns a high income is not a reason for a lower earning non-custodial parent to be excused from paying support. Child support can be increased and decreased for changes in circumstances.

Child support enforcement has become much stricter, as the burden on states and the federal government to pay Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has increased. States are given incentives to increase their rate of child support collection by the federal government—non-paying parents can lose professional licenses, driver’s licenses, and federal tax returns for failure to pay support. Personal and real property can be seized and incarceration is another collection mechanism. Many states are making wage orders mandatory. Finally, to make it easier for custodial parents to collect if an non-custodial parent is moving from state-to-state, all states have signed on and enacted the Uniform Child Support Enforcement Act which makes it harder for a non-custodial parent evade child support by frequent moves.


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