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What is Child Support Law?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term “child support law” refers to the sector of family law that deals with child support awards and distributions. Child support is a payment that one parent is mandated by a court to pay to the other to assist with the financial costs of raising shared children. Most courts require that parents financially support any of their minor children, regardless of whether the parent wants to or is able to play an active role in the child’s upbringing. Child support law goes hand-in-hand with several other facets of family law, including divorce law and child custody law.

Most child support law comes in the context of divorce settlements. The dissolution of any marriage requires a court order. In preparing that order, the court will consider not only the assets and relative wealth of each partner, but also the circumstances of any children that were born or legally adopted during the marriage.

The courts of most jurisdictions have the power to dictate the support arrangements of all minor children involved in divorce or dissolution cases. Most of the time, this starts with child custody. The court must determine where the child or children are to maintain their permanent residence. The court must also determine how much visitation time the non-custodial parent is entitled to, and must set up the conditions of any joint-custody arrangement. Child support payments are usually determined in conjunction with these other decisions.

Child custody law also covers situations where parents have never been married. A parent in any circumstance is responsible, under most country’s laws, for supporting minor children. The circumstances under which a parent became a parent do not typically have any bearing on the obligation to financially support a resulting child.

Children are by no means inexpensive to raise, and the courts will take financial matters into consideration when setting up parenting plans. Each country, and within some countries, individual states or provinces, have their own body of child support law. The court is obligated to follow this law in ordering payments.

Usually, child support law requires payment from the parent the children do not predominantly live with to the parent who provides the children a home most of the time. This payment is meant to cover school expenses, clothing and grocery costs, and other incidental expenses associated with raising growing children. In some circumstances, courts will also award alimony payments from one spouse to the other, but these payments are usually considered entirely separate from child support payments.

Child support law takes its benchmarks for amount from a variety of factors. The relative wealth and earning potential of each parent is usually a primary consideration. The standards of living to which the children have been accustomed plays a role, as does the cost of living in the primary custodial parent’s geographic region. Most of the time, each parent in a child support dispute is represented by a family lawyer or a child custody lawyer. The lawyer can help to convince the court of what an appropriate payment would be, but the decision is ultimately the judge’s.

No child support law mandates fixed or static payments, and in fact most child support awards granted by courts are subject to periodic review. One parent’s change in employment or salary, for instance, or a child’s serious illness or medical expenses can shift the required payment up or down. The premise of child support law is to assure that both parents are equally supporting the raising of their children, whether financially, emotionally, or materially.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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