Q: When do I have to start paying child support?
The obvious answer is…on the day your child is born. But for couples on the verge of a separation or divorce, the new reality of who pays for what, how much must be paid, and for what time frame are all issues that need to be resolved as the family splits up. When children are involved, child support is a major issue. And the obligation to pay child support generally lasts until the child is between the ages of 18 and 19.5 depending on your particular circumstances.
Child support can be worked out between the couple on their own, with a mediator, as part of negotiations between their attorneys, or by the Court's order. Once child support has been ordered, a motion to modify support based on a change in circumstances would be needed if a party sought to adjust the amount.
Ideally, couples would work out child support on their own, either independently or with the help of a mediator. But even if things are very amicable, child support is computed on a complicated statutory formula and couples should always seek the input of an experienced family law attorney before entering into any long term agreement of their own. When mediation fails or is not an option, the parties' attorneys can attempt to negotiate the terms and, failing that, the Court will order the parties to pay child support. So child support begins when the parties agree to it or when the court orders it.
While child support is one of the terms to work out when a couple files for a divorce, other avenues trigger a child support determination, including instances where a couple wants a legal separation by way of either a separation agreement or a separate maintenance action (where they want to live separately permanently but not divorce).
Many people have heard of separation agreements, also known as property settlement agreements. These agreements are legally binding and enforceable contracts declaring the couple intends to live apart and establishing each party's rights and responsibilities with respect to asset and debt distribution and spousal support. It also spells out child custody, visitation, and support terms.
Less well-known, a separate maintenance action is the legal channel that allows a couple to divide their assets and debts, split their responsibilities for their children, live independently and apart-- and still remain married. Basically, it is filed in the same way and on the same grounds as a divorce proceeding and it establishes all the same rights and responsibilities as a divorce, including establishing child support, but the parties remain legally married. Some reasons parties may consider this option include religious beliefs against divorce, the need for their spouse's health or medical insurance, or because the parties want their “space” but want structured terms in place while they consider whether to repair or dissolve the marriage.
A skilled family law attorney can help figure out which option for separation or divorce is best and help insure that spousal and child support is appropriate under each the particular circumstances of each case.
Byers & Goulding is devoted exclusively to family law matters and provides experienced, one-on-one legal services to clients throughout Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Livingston, Lapeer and Wayne counties. Call for a free consultation at 248.608.4123.