Attorney Ronald Isaacs, an expert on father’s rights in child support issues, says questions and controversies about child support payments, and the rights of the signers of those monthly checks, remain one of the most frequent and contentious issues for a couple sharing custody of their child after divorce. The parent who pays child support has few “automatic” rights. In nearly all cases, any “rights” granted in addition to the original child support order have to be adjudicated and ordered by the court on an incident-by-incident basis.
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Basis Behind Child Support
Most payers of child support are men, the fathers of children born out of a marriage or relationship with the mother of the child, according to Isaacs. Although women paying men child support is not unheard of, most women get custody of children after a divorce or break up. The court will then order the father to surrender a percentage of his monthly income to help care for the children living in her home. This legal obligation continues until the child is 18 years of age.
What Child Support Covers
Child support payments cover a portion of the child’s needs for housing, food, medical attention, education, clothing and general welfare, such as transportation and recreation. Child support payments ideally provide funds for the child as if the parent who pays child support were still living under the same roof with the child. The only difference is that the child support payer is writing one large check each month to the other parent—trusting she spends it for the child’s “welfare.”
Child Support Abuses
What Isaacs and other child support authorities know, however, is that there are often questions of abuse involved in child support, questions that usually end up in court. For example, the recipient of child support payments is not supposed to divert the money for other needs, such as clothing for herself. Child support payers have the right to make sure the money paid goes for the child’s welfare, not the lifestyle of the custodial parent.
Even when money given for the welfare of the child also legitimately benefits the child support recipient, it can be irksome to the child support payer. Installation of satellite TV services in the child’s home, for example, may, or may not be proper. Live-in boyfriends may be enjoying housing and food too—paid for in part by child support checks. Abuses of this type can be infuriating but, according to Issacs, child support payers have no right to “dictate lifestyle” to the custodial parent. Going to court is often the only answer.
Right to Amend Rulings
Payers of child support have no right to stop payments, withhold payments or withhold portions of payments from the child’s custodial parent, regardless of suspicions of abuses. Instead, the payer must seek help from the court in the form of an amendment to the original child support order, or a new order directing the custodial parent to stop diverting funds away from the child.
Right to Visitations
The court establishes visitation rights at the time of the divorce. Yet, many non-custodial parents paying child support complain that their former spouse does not honor these visitation rules. When this happens, Issacs says, child support payers often stop paying in an effort to coerce the ex-spouse to follow the rules. This is a mistake: only a court order can stop or lower child support payments. Issacs advises clients to go to court to get the visitation problem solved—and continue to pay child support as ordered in the meantime. Failure to pay child support in a timely manner can result in serious penalties, such as loss of driver’s license and even jail time.