Parents must financially support their children until their kids are legally independent by the state’s standards. A child support order ensures the support obligation is fulfilled.
The custodial parent, who spends the most time with the children, covers their share of financial obligations by providing the child’s primary home and most of their care. The noncustodial parent pays child support to cover their share. When parents spend near-equal time with their children, the parent with the higher income typically pays support.
You can ask the court to decide the support amount, or you and the other parent can agree on an amount and get the court’s approval. In either case, here’s a brief overview of the process of getting a support order.
Apply for a Support Order
You’ll start the process by filing an application for child support. The court will tell you what to attach, like your most recent tax return, your children’s birth certificates, etc.
You may also need to fill out a support calculation sheet to estimate a support amount based on your state’s formula – most states use the income shares model. You might suggest a different amount based on your child’s needs. If so, you’ll need to prove why the amount you suggest is best for your child.
You’ll hand in your paperwork to the court that hears support cases in your jurisdiction.
Serve the Other Parent
Next, you’ll serve child support papers to notify the other parent that you’ve requested support. The papers should include a summons and a copy of your application.
In some states, you can give the papers to the defendant yourself. Elsewhere, you’ll need to hire a sheriff or process server or ask a friend or family member who is at least 18 to serve.
After serving the defendant, you’ll have to provide the court with an Affidavit of Service as proof that the service happened.
Wait for the Other Parent’s Response
Typically, the other parent has about 30 days to respond. If they don’t respond on time, you’ll probably be awarded child support and skip to Step 5.
If the other parent files an objection to paying support or to the amount of support, you’ll need to attend a child support hearing. The parent will have to provide financial documents to help the court determine how much support they should pay.
Sometimes, the other parent is willing to negotiate a support agreement with you. The agreement is written into a Stipulation or other agreement form, then reviewed by a judge. Once approved, it becomes a court order and you’ll get a copy of the signed agreement to keep for your records (Step 5).
Attend a Child Support Hearing
At a support hearing, the judge reviews the documents filed by each parent and hears their supporting arguments and evidence.
The court could make a decision after a single hearing or require a few court sessions. In the meantime, you may get a temporary support order that lasts until the judge makes the final order.
Get your Child Support Order
The judge will write their decision into a court order or sign off on your agreement to make it a court order. You’ll get a copy of this in the mail or through email.
A child support order is separate from a child custody order. A parent cannot refuse to pay child support because the other parent is withholding visits with the child. A parent cannot refuse to allow visits with the children because the other parent hasn’t paid child support.
Enforcing a Child Support Order
The court will forward a copy of your child support order or agreement to a local child support enforcement agency that will ensure support is paid.
If the responsible parent doesn’t pay, they may face sanctions. For example, the agency can have the owed support amount deducted from the parent’s income taxes or lottery winnings. If the parent misses several payments, they could face jail time.
Modifying a Child Support Order
Circumstances change. Maybe the parent responsible for paying support has lost their job or the child has a new need that requires more money.
If there’s a change that would significantly affect the support amount, you can modify the support order. You can let the court decide the new amount or negotiate a change with the other parent on your own or through mediation.