This month is Child Support Awareness Month, and our Birmingham family law attorneys want to underscore that every single child is morally and legally entitled to receive support from both of his or her parents.
In a perfect world, all parents would offer up their emotional and financial support without question. Sadly, it doesn't always work out that way, and while you can't compel a parent to be more involved than he or she is, you do have options to ensure they pay support.
One of the best ways, particularly if you are emerging from a Birmingham divorce, is to have the support issue settled at the same time you reach a divorce settlement.
It can always be revisited later. In fact, it almost assuredly will be – every 36 months, per Alabama law.
The one exception is if a parent begins earning a great deal more than before or suffers some financial setback, such as being laid off. In these cases, you can request what's known as a modification. Keep in mind that the court is always going to consider what is in the best interest of the child. It's not in the best interest of a child to have one parent owing far more than they could ever hope to pay, but neither is it in the child's best interest if one parent can pay a greater amount and they aren't.
There are situations that the court will deem "materially significant," as to warrant a change. Every case is different, but generally, that might be the remarriage of a spouse, a new job or losing a job or the receipt of an inheritance or other such windfall by one parent. In order to petition the court for a change in support, you have to send a letter in writing to state why you believe a change is warranted. It's best to have an attorney do this for you – particularly one with experience in family law who can let you know whether the life change that has occurred meets that "materially significant" criteria.
Now, if two biological parents have never been married to one another, you may in some cases need to go through the process of establishing paternity before moving forward with the issue of support. These can be emotionally trying ordeals, but they don't have to be long or drawn-out. In fact, with the help of an attorney who can help you navigate the system, you can be done with it all fairly quickly.
A number of single parents make the mistake of thinking that they don't want to ask for support because they don't want the other parent to have rights to see the child. But the bottom line is, if that parent is the biological parent, they may have visitation rights anyway. Failure to press for regular and adequate support payments only hurts the child.
So all that said, how does the court determine what the child support amount is going to be? There are a number of factors that come into play, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It's not uncommon that two neighbors may be paying support for an equal number of children, and yet one pays drastically more than the other.
Here's what the court considers:
- The income and needs of the parent who has custody of the child;
- The income and ability to pay of the parent who will be expected to pay support;
- The financial needs of the child. This includes but is not limited to: education, insurance, day care and any special needs;
- The standard of the child's living prior to the divorce or separation.
If you are contemplating a divorce in Birmingham or have questions surrounding child support arrangements in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.