What is Child Support and how do I receive it?

Child support is the monetary obligation that a noncustodial parent pays to the parent who has custody of the child.  In Virginia, both parents are financially responsible for the child, and the law presumes that the parent with whom the child resides primarily pays for many of the child’s most expenses and needs, therefore, only the noncustodial parent will be responsible child support.

Child support can either be awarded administratively at the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) or through judicial means in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (J&DR Court) or in the Circuit Court as part of a separation agreement or divorce decree.

What is the process for receiving child support through the Virginia court system?

The establishment of a Child Support Order can be accomplished either by an independent petition in J&DR Court or in the Circuit Court as part of a divorce case. During a hearing to establish child support, a court will evaluate the evidence presented which usually includes evidence regarding parties’ income, monthly health insurance cost of the child, monthly work related child care cost etc., and issue a Child Support Order if warranted.  At that time, the court may also put into place a mechanism for enforcement of the Child Support Order.

The Court will also order any back child support, also known as child support arrears if any is owed.

What will the Court consider when determining child support?

The determination of child support is different for every family and even for each child within a family.  Courts will look to set child support in an amount sufficient to provide for a child’s necessary expenses, which include food, shelter, clothing, education, and health care.  Courts in Virginia use the Code of Virginia’s Child Support Guidelines to set the amount of support based upon the parent’s income, time with the child, and other financial matters.  

Additionally, the court is permitted to consider the following factors when determining the final obligation amount: the needs of the child; the child’s age; the ability for the noncustodial parent to pay the support obligation; any special needs the child may have; costs for child care; monetary support for other family members; and, other factors that necessary to provide a fair Child Support Order for the child.

The amount of support calculated by using the Child Support Guidelines is presumptively correct thus, if the court wishes to set a different amount based upon the previously mentioned factors, it must give a justification, in writing, stating the reasons for the deviation.  Above all, when setting the child support amount, the court will always do what is in the best interest of the child.

How long do I have to pay child support?

Child support payments may terminate when the child reaches 19 years old or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first, unless the child has a mental or physical illness requiring continued support by the custodial parent.  Sometimes whether a child is emancipated may be contested. It is important that you consult an attorney if there are issues regarding whether your support order should continue. Also, if the child’s parents agree to extend child support beyond that required in the statute by a written agreement, the court will not typically step in to change the terms of that agreement.

What if I can’t afford to pay child support?

In Virginia, even if you do not have a job or bring in income, you will still be obligated to pay child support unless there is a good reason for not paying.  There are limited situations where child support will not be ordered, such as the receipt of SSI disability payments. Otherwise, Virginia sets a minimum child support obligation in the amount of $68.00 per month even if you can’t afford to pay.

What if the noncustodial parent isn’t paying the ordered child support amount?

You have several options to enforce a child support order that is not being paid.

DSCE orders for child support will be enforced by the department itself.  It will enforce the order through such means as income withholding, property liens, suspension of driver’s or professional licenses, interception of tax refunds, or other mechanisms.

For Child Support Orders established by a court, you may file a motion to get the noncustodial parent’s income directly deducted for the amount of the support obligation or a motion for the noncustodial parent to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for not paying their support obligation.  Further, to address the payments that haven’t been made but are owed (arrears), a Motion and Notice for Judgment for Arrearages can be filed. This motion will allow the court to calculate the amount of past due payments owed and to provide an additional monthly payment amount on top of the support obligation for the payment of such.

What if I don’t pay my child support obligation?  What can happen to me?

This is common question that depends on your situation and the court.  Generally, the punishment for nonpayment of child support can range from income withholding of wages or Social Security benefits to imprisonment.  Further, your license can be suspended, your income tax return intercepted, your property seized, funds in your bank account seized, or you can even have the delinquency reported to major credit agencies.  Remember, it’s better not to take chances with such punishments; it’s always best to pay your support obligation when it is due.

What if I can’t pay my child support obligation?

If you cannot pay your Child Support as per the Order you should immediately take the appropriate steps to have your order modified.  It is always recommended to seek an experienced family law attorney’s advice when you have questions regarding child support modification so they can tell you whether you qualify for a modification (reduction or increase in child support) and advise you regarding presenting the appropriate evidence to obtain a modification.  Until a Motion to Amend/modify a Child Support Order is filed, your current support obligation will continue to accrue if you are not paying it in its entirety. You will be obligated to pay it back. That is why it is so important to seek counsel immediately if you are unable to pay your support.

Why do I still have to pay child support after my child has turned 19 or graduated high school?

Depending on the situation, you likely owe arrears (unpaid/back child support) that you have to pay off and that is why even though your child has graduated from high school or turned 19, you still have child support payments to make.