Is it cheaper to put myself on child support?
Deciding to go on child support is a big step for any parent. While it can provide needed financial assistance, many parents have questions about how it works and whether it’s truly cheaper than other options. This comprehensive guide examines the ins and outs of child support to help you make the best decision for your family.
What is child support?
Child support is a court-ordered payment made by one parent to the other to help cover expenses related to raising a child, such as food, clothing, medical costs, and education. The amount is determined based on factors like each parent’s income, the number of children, and the custody arrangement.
In most cases, the non-custodial parent (the one the child lives with less) pays child support to the custodial parent (the one the child lives with most or full-time). However, in some states a custodial parent can also be ordered to pay child support to the non-custodial parent, depending on their respective incomes and custody share.
How is child support calculated?
Calculating child support varies by state, but the basic formula includes:
- Income of both parents – This includes wages, salary, commissions, bonuses, unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation, pensions, interest, and more. The court determines each parent’s gross income and then applies the state’s child support guidelines to find the appropriate amount.
- Number of children – The child support payment increases as the number of children covered increases.
- Overnights with each parent – States consider the number of overnights the child spends with each parent. The more time spent, the less support paid.
- Health insurance and childcare costs – If one parent pays these expenses, the amount is factored in to determine final child support owed.
- Tax exemptions – Some states adjust support if one parent claims the child as a dependent.
- Additional factors – State guidelines allow adjustments for things like excessively high income or additional expenses.
While the court has discretion, child support typically follows the state’s published guidelines. Deviations need justification.
Child support vs. no child support – What’s cheaper?
Whether child support is cheaper than alternative arrangements depends entirely on your individual circumstances.
Potential costs of child support
- The paying parent must contribute an ordered percentage of their income, which reduces their available funds. Payments are typically made until the child turns 18 or graduates high school.
- The receiving parent claims the support payments as taxable income, which may bump them into a higher tax bracket.
- If support is contentious, legal fees pile up quickly to establish and enforce orders. This cuts into both parents’ bottom lines.
- Parents with joint physical custody (each has significant time with the child) often pay higher combined support than in sole custody arrangements.
- A high earner may pay more in support than the child’s basic needs cost since guidelines are percentage-driven.
Potential costs of no child support
- The primary custodial parent shoulders a lopsided burden covering all the child’s expenses. This can lead to financial stress.
- The non-custodial parent avoids costs associated with raising the child. The custodial parent alone pays for extras like sports, tutoring, and vacations.
- Income disparities are amplified. A low-income custodial parent struggles alone while a high-income non-custodial parent prospers.
- Custodial parents lose tax benefits since they cannot claim support paid as income to offset the dependent exemption given to the paying parent.
As you weigh these factors, consider:
- What custody arrangement do you anticipate having? With more equal time, support obligations often decrease.
- What is each parent’s income and ability to contribute? A large disparity may make support essential.
- Who pays for healthcare? Adding these costs changes the equation.
- Are legal fees a concern? Avoiding court reduces expense.
- How will taxes impact each household’s net income? Run calculations to find the real amount parents will pay and receive.
There is no universal answer on costs since every family’s situation is different. Seek legal advice to map your options rather than making assumptions.
Do I have to pay child support if I have 50/50 custody?
Many people assume equal physical custody means no one pays child support. However, having 50/50 custody does not automatically eliminate the possibility of child support.
Though child support amounts decrease with more parenting time, other factors like income differences still matter:
- If parents earn roughly equal incomes, 50/50 custody may nullify support payments. The obligation is more evenly split.
- But if one parent earns far more than the other, they often owe support even with equal custody. Guidelines offset income disparity so the child’s lifestyle is consistent between households.
- Expenses like healthcare and childcare factor in. If the lower earner pays these, the higher earner may still pay support to balance costs.
Specific child support calculations differ by state. But in general, 50/50 physical custody will result in a lower payment than sole physical custody. Consult a lawyer to understand how your state handles support with shared parenting.
Can I get full custody to avoid paying child support?
It’s a myth that getting full physical custody will help you avoid paying support. Courts make orders based on the child’s best interest – not as a financial strategy for parents.
Judges frown on pursuit of full custody only to reduce or eliminate support obligations. The outcome you actually get may be the opposite of what you expect.
- Judges may see this as manipulative and award custody to the other parent instead.
- Even with full custody, you may still have to pay support if your co-parent’s income is low enough to qualify.
- You will also carry a heavier load as primary custodian and solely responsible for expenses.
Rather than seeking full custody as a money-saving tactic, focus on explaining why the arrangement is best for the child. Be prepared to pay support if your co-parent needs assistance – even as primary custodian.
Who qualifies for child support?
Below are the typical requirements for receiving child support:
- Legal parentage – The person seeking support must have an established legal relationship to the child, either as biological parent, adoptive parent, or stepparent.
- Physical custody – The parent seeking support usually needs to be the child’s primary physical custodian, with the child living in their home most of the time.
- Financial need – The custodial parent must demonstrate need for financial assistance from the non-custodial parent. Income disparity is a key factor.
- Court ordered – A judge must issue a child support order for payments to begin. This cannot be informal.
Note there are exceptions where a primary custodial parent pays support to a secondary custodial parent, based mainly on comparative income. Non-parent relatives caring for a child may also pursue support from the child’s parents in some states.
Outside of exceptional cases, the general rule is the main custodial parent receives mandated support from the non-custodial parent. Get advice to see if you qualify in your situation.
Tips for modifying child support
If your current child support order no longer fits your circumstances, you can request a modification. Here are tips to be successful:
Show a substantial change in circumstances
Courts require you prove an important change that makes your existing order unreasonable. Examples include:
- Job loss or pay cut – Loss of income may justify a support decrease. Gaining a much higher paying job may warrant an increase.
- Change in custody – If you now have primary custody, you may gain the right to receive support.
- Child’s age – Once a child turns 18 or graduates high school, support often ends or decreases.
- Increase in expenses – If healthcare, childcare or other costs rise significantly, you may request more support.
Don’t just claim circumstances changed – prove it with evidence like financial records, custody agreements, medical bills and more. Courts want to verify your reasons. Make your case through documentation.
Use proper legal procedures
Follow your state’s rules exactly for filing your request with the court. Time limits, forms required and filing fees differ across states. Do it right from the start.
With the right approach, modifying support when your situation changes can provide financial fairness and avoid enforcement issues later. Consult an attorney for guidance.
Tips for avoiding child support income verification
Some parents seek to avoid having their income verified in an attempt to lower child support payments. Here’s the reality:
- Judges can compel documentation of income from employers and even order an audit if information seems dubious.
- Attempts to conceal assets can spur steep penalties, including payment of the other parent’s legal fees.
- Deliberately minimizing income may be seen as intent to avoid supporting your child. Expect a very negative reaction from the court.
- Any reductions you gain will be temporary. As income fluctuates in the future, your co-parent can seek increases through modification.
Rather than trying tricks to skirt your obligation, be transparent on income and expenses from the start. Seeking a fair support order based on honest facts will serve you far better in the long run.
Should I negotiate child support out of court?
Reaching an out-of-court agreement on child support can save legal costs and conflict, so many parents consider informal negotiation. Below are key considerations:
- Consult attorneys first – understand legal rights and typical awards before negotiating numbers. Get expert advice.
- Put the agreement in writing – verbal pacts often fail. Use proper legal documents to outline binding terms you both sign.
- Get court approval – file your agreement for the judge to review and enter into the record to avoid future disputes on validity.
- Build in modification rights – allow for recalculation if needs change, based on terms you agree on upfront.
- Consider tax implications – structure agreements to optimize deductions and credits for you both. Don’t overlook IRS rules.
- Keep communication open – give regular feedback on how the agreement is working and make appropriate adjustments.
With the right approach, an upfront negotiated child support settlement can benefit all parties. But consult experienced attorneys to protect your rights before signing any deal.
How can I avoid paying arrears in child support?
If you are behind on child support payments and owe growing arrears, here are proactive steps to avoid consequences:
- Contact child support enforcement – Opening lines of communication and showing good faith can help avoid aggressive enforcement actions. Ask what options may exist.
- Request a modification – If your income decreased, seek a formal adjustment of the order to an affordable amount going forward. Some states forgive a portion of arrears when support is lowered.
- Enter into a payment plan – Offer reasonable terms you can manage, like incremental payments against what you owe. Consistent payments show responsibility.
- Make any payment you can – Even small payments demonstrate your intent to comply with the order. Lack of payment prompts much stricter enforcement.
- Borrow from friends or family – If possible, get help catching up from people close to you, then commit to a repay plan. Prevent arrears from spiraling.
- Contact an attorney – A lawyer may find defenses that lessen arrears or work out an alternative agreement with the other parent.
While arrears can be stressful, taking initiative goes far with enforcement agencies. They act most aggressively with parents who ignore rather than acknowledging unpaid support.
Consequences of not paying child support
Parents who intentionally avoid child support face serious repercussions like:
- Wage garnishment – The court can order employers to deduct support payments directly from your paycheck. This is hard to prevent once ordered.
- Liens on assets – Any property you own could have a lien attached to eventually force the sale to pay support. Your co-parent may also place liens.
- Loss of licenses – States can suspend driver’s, hunting, fishing and professional licenses until you comply with support orders.
- Jail time – In rare cases, judges issue warrants and jail habitually non-compliant parents who owe substantial arrears.
- Credit damage – Missed payments are reported to credit bureaus and impact your credit score, which makes getting loans difficult.
- Passport denial – The State Department can deny new passport applications and renewals for nonpayment of support.
- Contempt of court – You may face additional fines and jail time if a judge rules you intentionally ignored valid orders.
Rather than risk punitive measures, communicate with child support enforcement if your situation changes. Seek modifications or make payment plans if needed. But avoid outright nonpayment.
Should I report child support as income on my taxes?
If you receive taxable child support payments from a divorce, separation agreement, or court order, you must report it as income on your tax return. Here are key facts:
- Report support payments on line 2a of Form 1040. You’ll include it in your total income.
- Support is taxable income even if the paying parent cannot claim the dependent exemption for the child.
- If you agreed not to claim support as income in your divorce decree, attach documentation to your return to avoid penalties.
- You cannot avoid reporting support by agreeing with the paying parent to exchange under-the-table cash payments. All court-ordered amounts are income.
- If you receive non-taxable benefits like housing or healthcare, do not report those as income. But child support payments are always taxable.
- Keep records of all support received in case of an IRS audit. Payments often come in multiple installments, so tracking details is essential.
Failure to claim child support as income on your tax return when required can lead to interest, fines and penalties for tax evasion if you are caught. Consult a tax professional if you have questions.
Am I entitled to child support if we were never married?
Unmarried parents have equal child support rights and responsibilities. The law does not distinguish based on marital status. Key facts:
- The parent who physically cares for the child the majority of the time may receive court-ordered support from the other parent.
- Even without legal parenting agreements, both mother and father are liable for financial support.
- Establishing paternity is crucial. An unmarried father needs to formally acknowledge paternity before child support is ordered.
- Either parent can open a child support case once paternity is set. Courts will enforce orders.
- Even if time is split 50/50, the higher earner may owe support to equalize living standards.
Do not assume child support is only for divorced spouses. Never marrying your child’s other parent does not cancel the obligation. Get a formal support order in place.
Should I include child support in my bankruptcy filing?
Child support cannot be discharged through bankruptcy except in very rare cases. Here are key facts on how it works:
- Current child support owed is a priority debt not relieved by bankruptcy. You remain responsible for paying it.
- Past-due child support that is owed to the parent is also a priority debt and not discharged.
- If past-due support is owed to the state because the parent received public assistance, that debt may be discharged in some cases. States can still pursue collection.
- The court can refuse to grant discharge of your other debts if you are significantly behind on support.
- Bankruptcy does not allow modification of support obligations. You cannot get existing orders changed.
Talk to your bankruptcy attorney to understand if any portion of past-due support is eligible for discharge. But ongoing current amounts cannot be included – child support has special protections when it comes to bankruptcy.
How does child support impact mortgage qualification?
Child support plays a role in mortgage approval in two key ways:
- Child support is counted as income when lenders calculate your debt-to-income ratio. Receiving steady support improves your DTI.
- You must disclose regular support payments in your application. Attempting to hide income could be mortgage fraud.
- Lenders typically require proof of a consistent support payment history through court records to rely on it as qualifying income.
- Deducting support lowers your DTI by reducing monthly obligations factored into affordability assessments.
- Lenders may request child support order documentation to confirm the expense claim and calculate your real DTI.
- If support recently started, lenders may disregard it until a stable payment trend appears in your bank statements.
Overall, including verifiable child support in mortgage applications makes approval more likely by balancing DTIs. But avoid inflating support just to look better on paper to lenders.
How to deal with custody exchanges without child support
Exchanging children smoothly is key for co-parenting success, especially when no child support is in place. Here are tips:
- Communicate often – Discuss upcoming expenses, the kids’ needs, schedules, etc. Stay up to date and make joint decisions.
- Split costs fairly – Share the financial burden equitably based on your incomes and custody time. Don’t let one parent carry the load.
- Use payment tools – Venmo, PayPal, etc. make splitting costs easier. Save receipts and track who paid what.
- Avoid nitpicking – Focus on working together, not scrutinizing every penny spent. Nitpicking destroys goodwill.
- Be flexible – When possible, accommodate changes and special requests. Compromise.
- Establish ground rules – Agree on protocols for decision-making, communicating, and resolving disputes.
- Be consistent – Stick to regular routines and patterns at each home for clothing, toys, activities, rules, etc.
With the right mindset and cooperation, you can make a non-support arrangement work well. But if it becomes unworkable, revisit formal support orders.
Deciding whether to establish child support involves weighing many variables specific to your situation. Avoid assumptions. Consult experienced legal counsel to understand your rights and obligations. With the right preparation, you can make informed choices serving the best interests of your child and family finances.