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What is Child Support?


Child support is the financial obligation that a parent owes to his or her child’s custodial parent for the support of their children. Although every individual family’s situation is unique, support is usually paid by a father who does not live with and directly care for his children. In many instances, a mother may be required to pay when she does not have legal custody of her child or children. Sometimes, both parents may be required to pay another person when neither of them have legal custody.

The primary caregiver is provided with monetary compensation or assistance to care for the welfare of the child. This support is designed to meet the needs and cost of living in society by assisting with food, clothing, health care, entertainment, education, and other expenses for the child. Child support can be paid voluntarily by the parent or court mandated.

Child support is money meant to support the child.
Child support is money meant to support the child.

Many countries around the world believe that it is the responsibility of both biological parents to provide financial support for the well being of their children. This is especially true in the western half of the world, where divorce rates tend to be higher. The amount of money that parents are required to pay is a percentage that is usually based on one of two principals: the cost of raising a child or the gross income of the non custodial parent. In the United States, individual state laws differ on how the payment amounts are calculated.

Child support is most commonly paid by a father.
Child support is most commonly paid by a father.

Child support is normally paid by a parent until the child or children reach 21 years of age. Varying laws and specific agreements made between parents might extend or decrease this age, however. For example, an agreement may be made or mandated at the time of parental separation that payments will be made by the non-custodial parent until the child graduates from college.

Child support may help cover a child's clothing expenses.
Child support may help cover a child's clothing expenses.

Base child support may also be accompanied by additional expenses that the parent must pay. Sometimes, for example, it may be required that half of all medical, child care or educational expenses are supplied by the non-custodial parent. In other cases, the support paid by the parent is expected to be sufficient to meet one parent’s obligation for all his or her child’s needs.

Discussion Comments


If my ex-wife wants to buy our daughter a car when she turns 16, am I obligated to pay for half of it (or more, based on our income shares)? Or does the regular base child support already being paid cover that? I know we can discuss and agree to whatever, but I'm wondering where my legal ground is.


My son is divorced from his wife and they have one 5 year old boy. He has always been the hands-on parent and has primary custody of their son. You don't see this very often, but this is something she actually agreed on.

Even though he has primary custody she does not pay any child support. My son would like to have some extra money but he knows he can't ever count on his ex-wife to pay it. She has a hard time holding down a job and can barely make it.

The most important thing to my son is that he has primary care so he knows his son is well taken care of. He could take her to court to enforce the child support if he wanted to, but in reality, nothing would change.


I am married to a man who has three kids from a previous marriage and we were paying over $1000 a month for child support for many years. He didn't mind paying the support to provide his kids with things they needed, but what was so frustrating was the way his ex-wife spent the money.

Very little of the child support she received actually benefited the kids and she would spend a lot of it on herself. There was nothing we could really do about it, but he paid every dime of child support he was supposed to.


Even though the state tries to make sure people receive the child support they are supposed to, there are a lot of people that somehow get by without paying any child support.

I have a friend who is a single mom with three kids. She doesn't have a college education so doesn't make very much money. Through the years she has received a very minimal amount of child support and this is never consistent.

Her ex-husband finds jobs that pay cash so there is no way to track what he is making. He also changes jobs and moves around a lot so he is hard to track down. The sad thing is the kids are the ones who suffer and have to do without a lot of things because he does not pay the child support he is supposed to.

@anon1273 -- I know each state has different laws when it comes to child support and you would need to check with the specific state. I live in a state where you no longer have to pay child support past the age of 18, but each parent is supposed to pay for 1/3 of the college expenses.

I have never known the college expenses to be reinforced like the child support is though. If a parent has not been paying their child support there are things the state can do such as garnish wages to make sure they get the support coming to them. I have never known them to do this past the age of 18 though.


Do you guys think that it's fair for credit bureaus and employers to judge people based on whether they paid their child support or not?

Some people say that this shows how responsible someone is, but I don't quite agree. Some people are unable to pay child support for short periods of time due to financial reasons. Why is this affecting their credit or whether someone hires them?


@ankara-- I think child support laws in Western countries are very similar but not so much for other countries.

For example, I have a friend who was from the Middle East and decided to divorce her husband back home. I talked to her recently and she told me that she was receiving a ridiculously low amount of money for their daughter whom she has custody of. She said the money barely covered her daughter's school fees.

She's really regretful that she didn't get a divorce here because the child support laws and enforcement in US are better. They are more realistic and they're really designed to help parents raise their children. It's not really the case in many other countries.


How do child support laws in other countries compare to the laws here in the US?

Are they similar?


@ anon37848: It depends on the case. If a parent is paying child support on time, the custodial parent can use that for the kids' extracurricular activities. If it's something on an ongoing basis that costs more than usual, that is going to be a huge hardship on the custodial parent, and a court can consider that part of the child's expenses and factor that into the overall child support payment agreement.

Or the parents can just figure it out on their own without a court. My friend has an agreement with her ex, about their kids, that she will pay for school tuition but their father will pay for extracurriculars and summer camp (which comes out to about the same amount). They didn't go to court; they sat down and worked that out.


If the non-custodial parent pays child support each month, do extra curriculur activities payments, such as sports, come from that payment or is the non-custodial parent responsible for payment or partial payment of extra curriculur activities the custodial parent decides upon?


Are there any new laws that came into affect reguarding child support?


If my divorce decree specifically states an age of 18 in which payments are stopped, does the Missouri state law, which I believe states that a parent must continue to pay child support if the child attends college up to the age of 23 override the decree?


How is it possible for an order of support be entered against a non-custodial parent without paternity being established in the state of NJ? My son has found himself in this position for a child he had no knowledge of.


My son is trying to work and catch up on his child support. He took a class and wants to work as a clerk in a pharmacy. The State will not issue him a licenses because he is behind in his child support. He was out of work and now he wants to try to work and pay the child support but he does not have the lump sum they are requesting. He is in a catch-22 situation. He can not work without the licenses and the state will not give him a license to work so that he can repay them. Is there something that can be done. How does a young man get the state's foot from off of his neck. He wants to pay but they will not give him any leave way. The individuals that he talks to give him answers like that is not their problem, or he will have to deal with it. Please help.


If the non-custodial parent is taking the custodial parent to court to modify their child support and health insurance, does the income go off of the custodials new spouse also?

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    • Child support is money meant to support the child.
      By: Andrey Kuzmin
      Child support is money meant to support the child.
    • Child support is most commonly paid by a father.
      By: s_l
      Child support is most commonly paid by a father.
    • Child support may help cover a child's clothing expenses.
      By: Cheyenne
      Child support may help cover a child's clothing expenses.
    • Child support may help cover a child's education expenses.
      By: Photobank
      Child support may help cover a child's education expenses.