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What you need to know about child support payments

Whether you are ending a bad marriage or just found out that you have a child, you may be faced with paying child support to your child's other parent. This is one of those topics that people rarely delve into until it affects them personally, either as the payer or recipient of child support.

Both parents have legal and moral obligations to support their children financially unless their parental rights were terminated. As most parents acknowledge, it is expensive to rear children in today's world.

If you are served with a child support order out of the blue, there is one thing that you must do first -- establish paternity. Even if you know or believe that the baby is yours, remove all doubt and get a paternity test. If you simply accept the mother's word and sign the acknowledgment of paternity only to learn later that the child isn't biologically yours, it can be devastating for you, the child and even your extended family members who forged relationships with the child.

Once you acknowledge or it is proven the child is indeed your son or daughter, you will have to pay support until the child reaches 18, gets emancipated or enters the military for active duty. In some cases, you could have to continue making ongoing support payments if your child is diagnosed as having special needs or is disabled.

Child support is based on custody of the children in question. The parent who has physical custody of the children is generally the recipient of income-based child support. The courts look at both parents' income when determining the amount that you will pay.

Even when the parents share joint custody, one parent may still have to provide support to the other if their incomes are quite disparate. Still, sometimes child support can be waived in joint custody situations if both parents agree to share child-rearing costs.

The court will look at all streams of revenue for both parents when calculating child support. They factor in:

  • Salary and wages
  • Tips
  • Pensions
  • Disability payments
  • Bonuses
  • Commissions
  • Social Security, veterans', workers' compensation and unemployment benefits
  • Earnings from self-employment
  • Annuities
  • Interest
  • Retirement benefits

The process is comprehensive and allows for hardship on the part of the paying parent, who may petition the court to lower the amount of monthly support due to a job loss or other unforeseen circumstances.

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