In family law cases that address a child’s living arrangements, like in divorce hearings, one parent is often named the primary residential custodian for the child. This means that he or she will live with that person, and scheduled visitation time is normally awarded to the other parent. The residential parent is responsible for providing all of the child's basic needs, such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical care. A child support order requires the parent that does not live with the child to pay a portion of those expenses, to the primary residential parent, to ensure the child receives adequate care and financial support.
The amount of money a child support order requires a parent to pay typically depends on the results of a child support guidelines worksheet. This formula calculates the combined income of both parents and takes certain other obligations into consideration. The cost of health insurance, special needs of the child, or existing support orders from other relationships may influence the amount of support the non-custodial parent is ordered to pay.
Both parents share the financial obligation of supporting a minor child. The percentage each is required to contribute may depend on the ability and financial strength of the individual parents, however. For example, a mother earning minimum wage with limited means of income is not usually liable for the same amount of financial support as the father who works full-time and earns a substantial income.
Sometimes, the non-custodial parent is allowed to make child support payments directly to the other parent. Other times, however, a family court judge will issue an income deduction order. This is done so that the non-custodial parent’s portion of support is deducted, or garnished, from his or her income, and automatically transferred to the primary residential parent. In the U.S., the Department of Revenue frequently oversees child support cases to ensure that this financial responsibility is met.
A parent who willfully violates a child support order can be found in contempt of court. In such an instance, a family court judge may order a purge amount that requires the parent to make a lump-sum payment of owed funds to the primary residential parent. Alternatively, the parent in violation of the child support order can be penalized with time in jail for up to several months, or until the obligation has been paid. Other actions, such as suspending driving privileges, revocation of passports, and levying property liens can be taken to compel compliance of the child support order.