In the United States, the purpose of child support laws is to protect the well-being of the children. The legal right of the child to support from parents is what is most heavily considered in court. Thus, the relationship status of the parents, even if they are still married, does not have any direct effect on whether or not child support is ordered. However, certain factors that are carefully considered when determining child support payments, may be complicated if parents remain married.
The amount and frequency of child support payment was once left up to parents to decide. However, with a large percentage of couples splitting up, U.S. state governments have begun to step in to regulate child support payments. Specific child support payments, laws, and court procedures vary according to state, though laws and considerations are similar throughout the country.
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One of the biggest factors considered when determining child support payments is the legal custody of children. Having custody of children means that parental consent is required for any major decisions regarding the child, and parents with custody (custodial parents) may make routine decisions whenever children are with them. When parents are married, they are automatically granted joint custody of children. Upon separating, each parent has equal right to custody. However, certain factors, including claims of parental abuse by one parent or proof of dangerous conditions, may encourage courts to award sole custody to only one parent, even if parents are still married. Physical placement of children usually coincides with custody, and both custody and physical placement are factors when courts consider child support payments.
Other Factors Determining Child Support Payments
Because the custodial parent is often the one who physically must take care of the child on a daily basis, the non-custodial parent must usually pay child support payments. However, since it is typical in marriage separations for both parents continue to have custody, there are other factors that are considered. For example, in Missouri, courts consider a number of factors when determining child support payments, including the amount of time the child spends in each parent’s care, the financial need of children, the resources of each parent, the standard of living that the child is used to, the physical/emotion/educational needs of children, and the expenses of each parent. (See Resources 3) Virtually every state court considers these same factors when determining child support payments. (See Resources 1)
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Because child support payments are determined at the state level, each state also has a child support enforcement agency in place to ensure payment. If a parent ordered to pay child support does not do so, then these agencies have other methods of collecting the money, including the seizure of real-estate property or the withholding of tax refunds. These collection methods may complicated by parents who are still married, however, as property and tax refunds are often jointly owned. In these cases, courts are less likely to order these methods of collection. And , if a separated parent ordered to pay child support moves out of state, collection of payments may also be more difficult. In these cases, the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act applies. This law allows the courts of a different state to ensure that child support payments are made.