It’s Child Support Awareness Month! A previous blog post, What can I do about late child support payments, outlined the steps to take when a co-parent fails to pay child support. In this post, we take a closer look at the role of a child support lawyer, when they are needed, and how they can help.

Paying Child Support

Who pays the support?

Child support obligations are paid by one or both parents periodically to support the care and education of their child. Child support is most often paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent or caregiver (this can be a grandparent, legal guardian, or even the state).

How much is paid?

The amount of child support is determined by factors such as combined income, custody schedules, and the number of children. Each state has its own guidelines for determining child support payments, and many states provide an online child support calculator and guidelines to assist with the process.

How do I pay it?

According to the Child Support Handbook, more than 70% of child support payments are collected directly from the payroll check of the parent. But, if the non-custodial parent is self-employed or paid under the table, they would need to be billed directly. Depending on the circumstances of your relationship with your ex, a child support lawyer may be right for you.

What do Child Support Lawyers do?

Child support lawyers can help your best interest and address any legal issues in the following ways:

  1. Explain your rights & answer any questions you may have
  2. Assess your case and file court documents
  3. Locate the co-parent and identify any eligible income or assets
  4. Calculate child support payments
  5. Enforce payments, serve legal papers, and attend court hearings
  6. Negotiate contract terms on your behalf

Many child support lawyers also consider themselves a family law attorney. If you are currently going through a divorce or high conflict separation, you may want to ask your attorney if they can help with other aspects of your parental and legal negotiations too.

When to Get a Child Support Lawyer

Complicated or high conflict cases:

If you and your ex cannot come to an agreement on the amount of support, custody, or visitation terms, a lawyer may be necessary. Once a high conflict case has been escalated to court, you will likely need a lawyer on your side to convince the judge to side favorably with your terms.

Enforcement when a parent doesn’t pay:

Once payments are court-ordered, any missed payments can be reported and enforced by the court of law. It’s important to note, child support agreements made outside of court are informal and are not legally binding if one parent decides to stop complying.

Custody or visitation battles:

Losing custody of your child can be devastating for both you and your child. If you are still negotiating custody, it is in your best interest to consult with a lawyer who can explain your rights, negotiate with your best interest in mind, and navigate the court system.

Cross jurisdiction battles:

There are different requirements when filing for child support depending on the state of residence. Filing across jurisdictions can become complicated, especially when having to track down an ex who doesn’t want to be found.

You suspect you or your child is in danger:

It is important to take immediate action to get an emergency protective order when separating from an abusive or potentially violent partner. A good lawyer will help you file the paperwork, collect appropriate documentation and make timely decisions to protect you and your child.

Your co-parent has a lawyer:

You never want to be unprepared if you know that your ex has decided to get a lawyer. One study found that individuals who don’t use legal representation, especially when the other co-parent uses an attorney, have a significantly lower chance of gaining custody of the child.

Child Support Lawyer Costs

Generally, lawyers charge clients in one of three ways:

Hourly rate: An attorney can charge anywhere between $100 – $500 per hour based on the case and their experience level. Keep in mind that while uncontested cases range between $2,500 – $5,000, court cases can be much more expensive ($5,000 – $25,000).

Flat fee: A lawyer may offer to charge a flat fee for their services, especially for straightforward tasks. Prices vary depending on the type of work needed.

Retainer fee: Lawyers may charge you upfront based on the expected hours they plan on charging. As they work, they draw money from the retainer’s balance. Sometimes this retainer fee is non-refundable, even if the work does not deplete the entire budget.

Things to Consider Before Contacting a Lawyer

Do you already have paternity established?

Can you afford the attorney fees?

Do you already have an existing child support order filed?

What kind of relationship do you have with the other parent?

Handling child support disputes can be extremely difficult. Consult with a child support lawyer to learn your rights and create an action plan that is right for you and your child.