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Child Custody | Family

Who Has to Pay Child Support in Joint Custody?

5 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

In most states, when parents share joint physical custody, both are typically responsible for paying a fair portion of the child’s expenses, including child support. The number of days the child spends with each parent and other key factors determines the amount each parent is responsible for paying child support. Generally, the parent who earns more money will pay more child support. The courts may also consider other factors when determining child support payment, such as child care, health insurance, and other children’s expenses involved.

Custody Arrangements for the Child Affect Child Support Amounts

If the co-parents share custody, their combined adjusted gross income will matter when calculating how much child support to pay and how to divide it.

Depending on the exact circumstances of each child custody case, financial support may be awarded to only one custodial parent or both parents jointly unless one spouse has domestic violence or substance abuse history.

The court has broad discretion in awarding an appropriate amount to the child’s parents to protect the child’s best interests. Generally speaking, courts will determine the amount of child support obligations based on the dependent children’s needs and both co-parents’ financial situations; and not necessarily in equal amounts.

Sole physical custody usually requires the non-custodial parent to pay child support to the other parent. In joint custody cases, however, the financial responsibility for supporting the children is shared between parents and can be adjusted by agreement.

Exceptions To The Court’s Ability To Order A Parent To Pay Child Support

In some states, there may be exceptions to the court’s ability to order a parent to pay child support. An example may be an unwed father who does not get legal notice of the birth of his child or a parent who does not have sufficient income to make regular payments.

Income Shares vs. Percentage of Income Models in Child Support Cases

Regarding child support cases, two standard models are income shares and percentage of income.

Under an Income Shares model, both parents must contribute a certain percentage of their combined monthly income towards the financial support of their children, ensuring that the children receive the same percentage of their parent’s income, regardless of who earns higher income. The Income Shares model is a reliable, equitable way to calculate child support between two parents. This model considers each parent’s income and the costs of raising a child to create fair payments to meet a child’s needs. The goal is to approximate what the children would have received if their parents had stayed together.

In contrast, the varying percentage rates of income model bases support payments on one parent’s income only. The non-custodial parent will then pay the custodial parent with sole custody a set percentage of their income. This model is common when one parent has significantly higher earnings than the other.

Parenting Time and Child Support Obligations

Parenting time, also known as visitation or access, is the time a parent spends with their child. A court order or an agreement between the parents can determine the parenting time.

In cases where both parents share physical custody, decisions about parenting time are typically made in a way that respects each parent’s rights, which is in the child’s best interests.

When a court decides parenting time, one parent may get primary legal custody of the child, and the other gets visitation rights. In cases where parenting time is divided equally between both parents, they must work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The state determines the amount of child support for each parent, which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Parent’s Legal Right to Spend Quality Time with Their Child

Physical child custody is the legal right of a parent to have a specified amount of time with their child. In most cases, the courts determine physical custody, which appears in an official agreement between the two parents. This agreement will specify how much time a child spends with their parent.

Time spent with children counts more than any financial contribution when paying child support.

Factors That Guide a Court’s Decision When Deciding Who Pays Child Support in Joint Custody Cases

The court considers various factors when deciding who pays support obligations in joint physical custody cases, including:

  • Each parent’s gross monthly income and resources
  • The standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parents had stayed together
  • Each parent’s ability to contribute financially to a child’s life

However, the parents may not pay support obligations if the child becomes economically independent. Child support determined by the court is considered a debt requiring payment.

If parents have joint custody, the non-custodial parent may not be legally obligated to pay child support. That said, even when parents share custody of their children, the other parent must contribute financially.

If a spouse supports other children, such as stepchildren or adopted children, the court may award spousal support for the duration it takes for those children to become independent.

Do Custodial Parents Who Share 50/50 Custody Still Have to Provide Child Support?

In some cases, parents who share 50/50 custody may not have to provide child support payments. For this to be the case, the parents must have a written agreement that states that each parent will provide for their child, and there will be no additional payments from one parent to another.

Parents in joint custody arrangements must pay child support for the upbringing of their children. Depending on the agreement’s specifics, either parent can apply for state child support.

Speak to a Legal Professional About Joint Custody Child Support Obligations to Protect Your Parental Rights

If you are a non-custodial parent in a joint custody arrangement, it’s important to get true legal advice from an actual lawyer to protect your parental rights and your child’s best interests.

Unbundled family law attorneys can help. Lawyers who offer unbundled services offer affordable pay-as-you-go representation, along with traditional full representation. Unbundled attorneys start at less than the cost of most other lawyers. Although unbundled legal services are not the best option for every case, they can be highly advantageous when you only need a limited amount of assistance.

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