State family laws mandate that parents provide support and care for their children, regardless of whether the parents are cohabiting, living apart, married or undergoing a divorce. The amount of the support depends on income, the number of children and numerous other factors, including child preference (if the child is old enough to state one).
Laws vary from state to state regarding how much support a child is due. Many states, such as Tennessee and Florida, use a child support formula along with a guidelines chart to determine the support amount. In Florida, for example, if the parents have a combined monthly income of $3000, the guidelines call for $986 in support for two children. In Tennessee, in contrast, a couple with the same combined monthly income must pay $822 in support for two children. How the support amount is divided up depends on other child support factors.
Child Support Factors
Just like the guidelines vary by state, the child support factors may also differ. In general, courts look at factors such as the needs of each child, the income and earning capacity of each parent and the child’s standard of living. While the guidelines provide a starting point, the support amount depends on the facts and circumstances of the parties involved.
Child support may be modified in certain situations. Typically, the modification requires a change in circumstances between the parties. A change in circumstances often includes situations such as a change in the custody agreement or if one parent loses a job or receives a promotion. It is critical that parents seek modification early if a change in circumstances arises; the support amount remains set and continues to accrue unless modification is sought.
Length of Obligation
In general, the child support obligation lasts until the children turn 18. For two children, support must be paid until both children reach 18, although once one child reaches 18 the amount is reduced. In some cases, the obligation may last beyond 18. Many states require support until the child reaches 19.5 years old, provided she is attending high school, living at home and expected to graduate. If the child has special needs, the support obligation may last longer.