Black's Law Dictionary defines child support as the legal duty owed by parents for the financial maintenance of their children. In a custody or divorce proceeding, child support consists of the monthly or periodic payments that one parent makes to another intended to cover the needs and expenses (i.e. groceries, lodging, clothing, school, transportation) of the parties' children. Child support, which may take the form of an annual or lump sum payment, is enforceable in both criminal and civil courts.
As a general rule, the duty to pay child support ends upon the child's emancipation or when the child attains the age of majority. However, some states do not have a fixed age for emancipation. Rather, in determining emancipation, they consider a number of factors such as whether the child is married, is working full-time, has joined the military, is self-supporting, is adopted by another individual, has been adjudged emancipated by the court, or is attending college. In the majority of states, child support continues beyond the child's eighteenth birthday, not exceeding the age of nineteen. There is an exception, however, for dependent, disabled children irrespective of age.
The non-custodial parent pays child support to the parent with primary physical custody of the child. In single-parent homes where one of the parents has not sought custody, the custodial parent is the one raising the child. In other circumstances, the custodial parent issue is decided by a court following a child custody or dissolution action or through alternative dispute resolution. The percentage of child support that a non-custodial parent is required to pay varies from state to state. Furthermore, courts may choose to depart from the child support guidelines.
In cases involving joint custody, where both parents share equal authority and responsibility vis-a-vis the child, they will both be deemed 'custodial' parents. However, it may be that one of the two parents is obligated to make child support payments to the other. For instance, where one parent earns significantly more than his or her ex-spouse or partner, the higher-income parent will be required to furnish financial support to the other.
Where unmarried parents are concerned, a child's biological father whose paternity has either been determined by an agreement between the parents or the father's admission is required to pay child support. Furthermore, a man who openly holds a child out as his own or welcomes the latter into his domicile is presumed to be the father.
Because the duty to pay child support applies to both genders, fathers with custody or stay-at-home fathers are also entitled to it.