People often think of child support as being paid by the father, but it is not that simple. Child support can vary widely from state to state, and even from judge to judge.
Child support basics
In the United States, parents have a duty to support their children. Though the law is evolving to take same-sex relationships into account, it generally presumes two parents, one mother and one father. Determining who is the mother is easy because the person that gives birth is typically presumed to be the legal mother.
Establishing the father can be more tricky. Most commonly, the husband of the mother is presumed to be the father. A father and mother can also agree on who the father is. If the biological father denies his role, a mother can typically request a DNA test to establish fatherhood.
Being a legal parent of a child is not a responsibility that goes away easily. A parent will generally remain responsible for his or her children even if they are separated. The government wants to make sure that children are taken care of, so parental rights will only be removed if a new parent is ready to take over responsibility.
For example, a surrogate mother can usually hand over her responsibilities to the parents that will raise the child, and an absent father can also usually give up his responsibilities to a new adoptive father that is living with the child’s mother.
States have different ideas about how child support should work. Some states consider it a bare-minimum requirement for a non-custodial parent (not living with the child) to keep the custodial parent (the one living with the child) out of poverty. Other states have higher requirements.
They may try to ensure that a child has a similar standard of living when going back and forth between each parent’s house in a joint custody situation.
Child support calculation examples
The short answer to “who will pay the child support” is that the parent that does not have custody will pay, or if custody is shared with the parent making the most money might pay.
Take Maryland as an example of how this works. The Maryland Department of Human Resources provides two worksheets with child support guidelines. The first applies when one parent has primary physical custody (i.e., the child lives in that parent’s house) and the second worksheet applies when the parents share physical custody (i.e., the child splits time between each parent’s house).
The worksheets both work pretty much the same way. The two parents’ incomes are added up and then plugged into a schedule in order to determine an appropriate baseline support amount for the child. Each parents’ share of income is also determined. For example, if the mother earns $60,000 and the father earns $40,000 then the mother’s share would be 60% and the father’s share would be 40%.
Issues like health care and child care are factored in, and then each parent is assigned a share of the support in line with their income. Then, the parent with the higher support obligation must pay the other parent.
A noncustodial parent must pay his or her whole share of the childcare costs, while the parents sharing custody also have to factor in how much time the child spends in each home.