Children are a huge financial responsibility. An average middle-income, two-child, married couple will spend around $12,980 per child – that’s around $233,610 to raise a child to adulthood. However, given that both parents are present in the child’s life, both parents can depend on each other to provide for themselves and their families.
The same cannot be said, however, for most single parents. Some single parents can have family and friends willing to support them, but for most single parents who have no other financial option, they may have to seek child support from their child’s other parent. But how long does it take to get child support?
Getting child support can begin as early the day it’s filed. So, you should file for child support at your nearest Child Support Agency as soon as your child is born or as soon as you have sole custody of your children. Here are the steps to getting child support from your child’s parent. This both applies to single mothers who are seeking child support from their child’s father and single fathers who took custody of their child and are seeking support from the child’s mother.
Step One: Establish Paternity
For single fathers seeking child support from their child’s mother, this is not necessary (since it’s already a given that the child did come from the mother). And while most fathers will step forward and take responsibility for their child and claim paternity, some men will deny paternity or will not claim responsibility until they are sure the child is really theirs. For the latter case, a child support agency can arrange for a blood test or genetic testing to determine if the child is genetically theirs.
Step Two: Contact a Child Support Agency
It doesn’t matter if you’re divorced from your child’s other parent or if you and your child’s parent never married; as long as they are the biological parent or the adoptive parent of the child (e.g. you and your partner legally adopted a child but then decided to divorce), then they are liable to pay child support.
Child support laws vary based on the state the child and the custodial parent is in. Some states stipulate that your child’s parent will have to pay child support until your child turns 18, while others last only until the child graduates high school. Non-custodial parents may need to keep paying child support after their child turns 18 if the child has special needs. If you marry another partner who decides to adopt your child, then your child’s biological parent can opt to stop paying child support.
Step Three: File a Court Order
You’ll need to file a court order through your local Child Support Agency. Since a judge will decide how much child support you need, the agency may provide you with a lawyer, but you can hire one or choose to represent yourself (though it’s best to have one who can provide knowledge and experience in family law).
Based on the facts given (e.g. your income, your child’s other parent’s income, the child’s medical needs, etc.), a judge will determine how much child support the other parent is obligated to pay you. Because this is a court order, they have a legal obligation to pay this amount, and refusal to do so can make them criminally liable. Even if your child’s parent agrees to pay you child support before you get a court order (you can find out how much they’re legally obligated to pay through the agency in your state), it’s best to obtain a court order anyway because if they stop making payments, they aren’t legally obligated to pay you until you obtain one – and it cannot be done retroactively.
Also, take note that the amount of child support stipulated by the court order is only a minimum. The non-custodial parent can take the initiative to provide more financial assistance than what is legally required.
Step Four: Collect Child Support Payments
Assuming your child’s other parent isn’t going to try to skip payments, how long it takes to get your child support payments depends on the method you agreed to receive child support. The most successful way you can ensure you receive your child support payments is by withholding it from a parent’s paycheck or wages.
Like government taxes, the parent’s employer can legally withhold their child support payments. This will be sent to the Child Support Agency. However, if your child’s parent does not have steady work or changes jobs frequently, this might not be a safe option, especially if you’re relying on each child support payment to make ends meet.
Other methods of payment are through the mail or online transfer. As the parent with custody over your child, it’s your responsibility to make sure you keep track of each payment and make sure your child gets the support they deserve.
What If They Avoid Child Support Payments?
If child support payments are late by even half a month, this can considered be contempt of court. Sometimes, this may simply require reminding your child’s other parent to pay you, or they may explain that there is a delay but will pay soon. But if it turns out that they are actively avoiding child support payments, there are several ways you can enforce child support as long as you file charges and let the court know about their failure to pay.
To enforce child support and catching parents who try to escape child support, the court can withhold income, hold a person’s passport and prevent them from flying abroad, setting a lien on property (i.e. establish a legal claim on one’s assets in case that person doesn’t pay due to bankruptcy), and revoke one’s personal license. Failure to pay can even result in fines, federal penalties, and even jail time depending on the situation.
Single parents can still get the financial support from their child’s other parents, and the law provides assistance for them to ensure their child’s parent complies with payment. Don’t be afraid to visit your nearest agency to provide you with more information that can be useful for your and your child’s financial situation.