Many people consider divorce to be a legal matter between two people: the spouses who are parting. However, divorce also affects all children a couple may have between them. In addition to changes in lifestyle and living situations divorce often provokes, emotional transitions occur in the family unit and may affect children in profound ways. Couples must unite and agree on as many concrete matters as possible, as soon as possible, to be in the best position to tackle these significant challenges children of divorce will face.
Child support is a legal mandate provided to the partner of the former couple when he or she has primary custody of one child or all children the couple shares. The amount varies based upon state regulations and individual incomes, as well as factors such as special needs the children may have or special care they may require. The child support payment amount is a fixed cost susceptible to review for circumstantial changes such as disability, unemployment and increased or decreased salary after divorce. Child support awarded to the primary custodian is mandated for any divorce involving minor children.
After the initial party’s filing for a Petition of Dissolution of Marriage, commonly called “divorce papers”, and service of those divorce papers to the receiving party, arbitration and negotiation will begin on legal and financial particulars between them. Custody, visitation rights and child support will be part of those discussions along with property, asset and investment divisions. A formal child support order must be filed, agreed upon and signed by both parties as part of the final divorce decree.
However, when those child support payments actually become due can depend upon what a couple’s attorneys argue and what a judge decides. In many cases, child support payments become payable to the primary custodian after the final divorce decree is issued by a court of law. In amicable situations where both spouses provided ongoing child care and monetary support while their divorce was pending, this is rarely challenged. But in acrimonious situations or cases of a spouse who bailed out financially on children prior to a final divorce decree, retroactive child support could be awarded to the primary custodian. This retroactive child support could accrue all the way back to the initial date of filing for divorce.
The best practice is for both spouses to continue to contribute equally to expenses of the household where a child or children reside even if they are divorcing, and to share costs of extra expenses which may arise in minor children’s lives before the divorce is final. If a spouse is unable to do that and has a fair argument for why, an exception may be made, but please be aware the final contribution expectation is up to a judge. So long as a fair contribution from the initial filing can be proven and established based upon each spouse’s income and capabilities, no need should arise for retroactive child support after the final divorce decree.
The only way for the former spouse charged with paying child support to reduce payments or attempt to end them altogether is to file a motion for modification of the original divorce decree. He or she does not have legal authority to just stop paying child support. The state can enforce payment and collect retroactively starting from the point of non-payment. It is in a couple’s best interests to set aside differences to address minor children’s monetary needs together, throughout the entire divorce process. This is best for not only the children’s financial needs, but also their emotional health and well being.