According to their ability, both parents have a legal duty to support their children during and after the marriage is over. Most jurisdictions have detailed child support guidelines, which provide a set formula for calculating child support, based on a proportion of each parent's gross income. These guidelines will control unless one of the parents can show that applying the guidelines would be unfair.
Generally speaking, the spouse who is given physical custody of the child will usually be entitled to child support payments from the other spouse. Like spousal support, child support can be ordered during the divorce proceeding and is called "pendente lite" support, which means "during the litigation". The amount of pendente lite support may be modified upward or downward in the final decree of divorce.
Your state laws will help determine the actual amount of child support to be awarded and who has to pay it. In most cases, the judge will consider all relevant facts, including any special needs of the child, the income and earning capacity of the parents, the age of the child, any other support responsibilities of the parent, and the time each parent spends with the child.
Each state has written guidelines that the judge will use to determine the appropriate amount of child support. The factors may vary from state to state, as may the weight given to any particular factor. Unless there are unusual factors involved, the amount set out in the guidelines will normally be the amount of child support ordered by the court.
In regards to modification of child support, if circumstances change, the judge may modify the child support award at any time. Unlike spousal support, the parties cannot make their own agreement saying that a child support order is "non-modifiable."
The court will consider a host of factors in determining child support obligations.
The parent asking for modification of the child custody amount in a divorce proceeding must show changed circumstances, such as increased or decreased needs of the child, increased or decreased income, obligations because of a subsequent marriage, changed custody arrangements, or any other factor which the judge feels is appropriate to take into account under the guidelines established by the particular state.
Death of the paying parent will not usually end the obligation to support - the obligation passes to the paying parents estate. Unlike spousal support, which normally does end with the death of the paying spouse, child support will likely continue until the child reaches the age of majority. If the parent with the duty to support dies, the obligation becomes an obligation of the estate of the deceased parent.
The same is true if the paying parent files for bankruptcy after the divorce. In the case of bankruptcy, the paying parent will not be allowed to end the obligation to pay child support. In addition, any unpaid support will not dis-chargeable in a bankruptcy proceeding. The bankruptcy might, though, be a changed circumstance that will persuade the divorce judge to modify the amount that must be paid in the future.
Finally, on the issue of when child support payments end, normally, child support payments must continue until the child reaches age of majority, usually 18 years of age. However, if the child is disabled, the obligation may continue indefinitely. Some states also require the parents to provide for the education of the child even if the child has passed the age of majority. But if the child is "emancipated", then the obligation of the parent normally ends.
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