Establishing a child support order

Establishing a child support order typically involves filing a petition with the court, which will then hold a hearing to determine the appropriate amount of child support to be paid. Both parents will have the opportunity to provide information about their income, expenses, and other relevant factors, such as the child’s needs and any special circumstances. The court will then make a determination based on state guidelines, and issue an order for the amount of child support to be paid. It’s important to note that child support orders can be modified in the future if there are significant changes in circumstances, such as a change in income or custody arrangements.

A child support order determines the amount of the obligation and how it should be paid. Establishing a support order depends on how much success you and your caseworker or lawyer have in several critical areas, such as locating the noncustodial parent, if necessary; identifying what he or she should pay; and determining the financial needs of the child.

All states have child support guidelines (a calculation of how much a parent should contribute to the child’s financial support) that must be used to establish support orders unless it is shown, in writing, that doing so is not in the best interest of the child. Most state guidelines consider the needs of the child, other dependents, and the ability of the parents to pay. States must use the guidelines unless they can be shown to be inappropriate in a particular case.

States today can have arrangements for establishing the support order by an administrative procedure or other expedited legal procedure. The hearing may be conducted by a master or a referee of the court, or by an
administrative hearings officer. An order approved by this kind of procedure, whether contested or made by agreement between the parties, must be based on the appropriate child support guidelines for setting a child support order and generally has the same effect as one established in court. It is legally binding on the parties concerned.

Federal law requires every child support order to include a provision for health care coverage.
Medical support can take several forms. The custodial or noncustodial parent may be
ordered to:

  • provide health insurance if available through his/her employer,
  • pay for health insurance (health care coverage) premiums or reimbursement to the custodial parent for all or a portion of the costs of health insurance obtained by the custodial parent, and/or
  • pay additional amounts to cover a portion of ongoing medical bills or as reimbursement for uninsured medical costs.

If an agreement for support is made between the parents, it should provide for the child’s present and future well-being. It may be useful to discuss these issues together if you can, or with a mediator or family counselor. You may
contact your state or tribal agency to learn more about child support guidelines:

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