Saturday, July 2, 2011

Child Support - Part I: Six Questions, Six Answers

After a rather lengthy sabbatical from Southern Justice, I'm back. As a Child Support Lawyer, child support is a frequent and complicated issue that I see on a weekly basis, usually in the context of a divorce. In Part I of this two part series, I've addressed six of the twelve most commonly asked questions I hear about child support.

1) Is Child Support (CS) mandatory? That is, do I have to pay CS? Yes*. Alabama law is very clear -- a parent has a duty to support his or her minor child. But, see question two below.

2) Can the parents (or parties) agree that no CS should be paid? Yes. But, a Court must approve such an agreement. There are numerous cases each year where the parents have made some agreement years ago that no CS will be paid. Then, something goes wrong and the parent entitled to receive CS for the child goes to Court. The earlier agreement is worthless and invalid and, most times, the parent who should have been paying CS is required to pay thousands to "catch-up."

3) How is the amount of CS that I or the child's other parent owes determined? Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration notes and explains the Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines list the factors the Court must consider (mostly income and the number of children) in determining how much CS is due.

4) How long do I have to pay CS? Normally, there are three ways a CS obligation is terminated: (1) the child reaches the age of majority, (2) the child is emancipated through marriage or judicial determination, or (3) the child becomes self-sufficient. However, a Court may order continued support once a child reaches the age of majority (if unmarried) under two circumstances: (1) for education purposes (college) or (2) a disability which renders the child incapable of self-support.

5) Can my record of paying CS impact my ability to have custody or visitation with my child? Yes, this is common sense -- if you have not provided for the child, why would the court believe it is in the best interests of the child to be with you?

6) Can a CS order (stating how much I owe each month) be modified or changed later on? Yes, a CS award is always subject to change. Two reasons will justify a change: (1) the changed needs of the child or (2) the ability of the parents to pay the CS changes.

This is, of course, a cursory examination of these CS issues. For more information, please contact me. And, look for Part II of this series soon. My best.

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