Child Support by Court Order

Generally, a child is entitled to financial support from his parents until he or she becomes 18 years old. It does not matter whether the parents were/are married, divorced, separated or never married. A child support order is an order passed by the court that sets of the terms of the support including the amount of support. If the parent ordered to pay child support fails to pay, the order can be enforced through the court.

Legally speaking, an order is a command by a judge to a party or parties to do something or face penalties for failure to do as commanded.

Child Support Orders

The exact process for getting child support orders varies from state to state. Generally it is created as part of a divorce process or on the application of an unmarried parent seeking child support from the other legal parent or when the services of the state child support agency are utilized.

Part of the Divorce Process

In there are children from the marriage, the divorce court will generally order the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the parent having custody of the child(ren). The non-custodial parent will be required to make a monthly payment of a certain sum of money to the custodial parent. Every state has guidelines which the courts use to determine the amount of child support. These guidelines vary from state to state. Some of the factors that are considered when determining the amount of child support include the income of both parents and the children’s living expenses and requirements. In most states the amount of child support is generally a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income.

(Note: Even there is an agreement on child support; it must be approved by the court. The court will approve it only if it meets the state guidelines).

Unmarried Parents

Unmarried parents can also claim child support. In such cases, the application must be made by the custodial parent in the family court. The court will require that paternity of the other parent be proved unless the other parent admits to the paternity. The amount of child support is calculated using the state child support guidelines.

State Child Support Agency

Every state has a child support agency which enforces child support orders. In majority of the states a parent seeking to collect unpaid child support in the absence of a support order cannot approach the state child support agency. The agency will not act unless there is a child support order. For example if there is no child support order but the father has been regularly paying the mother child support and then all of a sudden the father vanishes, the mother must first get a child support order from the court before approaching the agency for help. The agency will help locate the other parent and collect the child support or enforce the child support order.

Note: In different states, this agency is known by different names. In some states it is part of a larger organization.

If you are seeking child support, you need to go to court yourself. The agency can do that on your behalf and ask for a child support order. If the order is passed, the agency will help you enforce the order.

Function of Child Support Orders

The child support order is a legal order passed by the court. It:

• Specifies who pays child support to whom
• Determines the amount of child support and the frequency of payment
• Specifies how the payment is to be made
• Authorizes penalties for non-compliance


There are many ways to enforce a child support order. In some states, the order will specifically state that the paying parent’s wages must be withheld if the child support order is not complied with. Other methods for enforcing child support orders include property seizure, tax refund interceptions and contempt action. A person is said to be in contempt of a court order if he or she violates the court order. Contempt can result in a jail term.

Generally, a court order for child support must be in place before you can enforce or collect child support. As explained above, the state child support agency can help locate and collect the payment if there is a court order. Click on the links to know more:<

• More on Enforcement of Child Support Orders
• State-by-state listing of child support agencies.


If there is a significant change in the circumstances, the child support order can be changed or modified. What is a significant change in the circumstances to warrant a change in the order will depend on the facts of the case. Generally, loss of employment, sudden medical emergency, disability or increase/decrease in income is considered as significant change in the circumstances.

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