Child Support: Duration, Taxes, Modification and Enforcement

Continued from Page One

In most states, child support payments continue until the last child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. However, as each child is emancipated (turns 18 or graduates high school), the payor may seek to have the amount of child support reduced to accurately reflect the number of minor children in the family. However, while a child support obligation ceases once a child is emancipated, the court may order both parents to contribute to the cost of a child's college education. Additionally, the court may require one or both parents to maintain the child on his or her medical insurance until he or she graduates from college.

Filing Income Taxes

The marital settlement agreement entered into between the parties should always set out each party's rights and obligations with regard to income taxes. Where there is an even number of children in the family, the parties usually split the dependency exemptions equally. Where there is only one child or an odd number of the children, the parties often agree to alternate one child, with one parent claiming the dependency exemption in one year and the other parents claiming the exemption for the same child in the following year. Each parent is usually entitled to a child tax credit in accordance with the number of child dependency exemption claimed.

Health Insurance

Generally, health insurance benefits are considered party of child support and can be sought in addition to child support payments. The court may order one or both parents to maintain a child on his or her health insurance plan. Where only one parent carries the child's health insurance, the other parent is usually ordered to contribute 50 percent of the cost of health insurance premiums. Additionally, it is standard for the parties to split co-pays, prescriptions costs, and out-of-pocket medical expenses equally Moreover, in calculating the amount of child support to be paid, courts often allow the payor to reduce his or her net income by the amount it costs to maintain the child on his or her health insurance.

Bankruptcy and Child Support

Many receiving parents worry that a payor parent can file for bankruptcy as a way to avoid paying child support. However, child support is considered a debt "in the nature of support" and cannot be discharged by a bankruptcy court. This means that, once a parent incurs a child support obligation, he cannot avoid his obligation simply by filing for bankruptcy.

Modification of Support

Child support can be modified by either party in any direction any time the court feels it is warranted. Some attorneys advise their clients to review their child support order every two years, to account for increases in salary and the increasing needs of the children. In determining whether child support should be modified, the court will look at such factors as:

  • An increase or involuntary decrease in the income of payor;
  • The number of children to be supported (for example, a child may die, marry, or become emancipated);
  • The involuntary loss or work by the payor;
  • The increased needs of the children as they grow older.

Enforcement of Support

All fifty states currently have state child support enforcement agencies who typically are responsible for collecting, disbursing, and enforcing child support payments. The best way to ensure that child support payments are made in a timely manner is to have a set amount of support withheld from the payor's pay check each time he or she is paid and sent to the state support agency, who will then forward the payment on to the receiving parent. In the event that a child support payment is missed, the state enforcement agency usually becomes involved quickly.

If your child support order is not registered with a state agency, or if you wish to handle the matter differently, it is always possible to return to court and ask the judge to enforce the child support order. Upon petition by the receiving parent, the court my hold the payor parent in contempt of court, force him to pay the child support owed, and order him to pay the cost of the receiving parent enforcing the support judgment.

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