Both parents have an obligation to support a child, regardless of whether the child was born during their marriage.

Determining Parentage

Questions regarding the parentage of a child may arise when one parent seeks to obtain child support from another person alleged to be the parent. If a person denies being the parent of a child, a parentage action (traditionally called a paternity action) may be brought to determine whether the person is in fact the parent of the child.

Genetic testing is commonly used to establish parentage. In some cases, however, genetic parentage may be neither necessary nor sufficient to establish parentage. An obligation to support a child may also arise in a non-parent where that person has, by their conduct, substituted themselves for the child’s parent and allowed the real parent(s) to rely on them to provide support for the child. This occurs most commonly where a stepparent seeks to prevent a former spouse and co-parent of the child from continuing an involvement in the child’s life following the stepparent’s intermarriage with the child’s other parent.

Actions for Child Support

An action for child support can:

  • Be part of a divorce action
  • Proceed independently of any action determining the status of the parents
  • In many states, be ordered in the context of a domestic violence action

Amount of Child Support

The non-primary residential (or non-custodial) parent usually pays child support to the other parent. The amount of child support is usually determined in accordance with guidelines established by each state. These guidelines are based on the respective incomes of the parents. Under federal law, most states now require some form of periodic review of child support orders to make certain that they remain adequate in light of changes of life circumstances of the parents and child.

Termination of the Support Obligation

The obligation to provide child support can be terminated for the following reasons:

  • When the child becomes an adult, which in most states is age 18.
  • The death of either the child or the supporting parent. A few recent cases have continued the obligation of child support after the death of the parent on the parent’s estate. This remains, at present, a minority view.
  • The termination of the parent’s rights by virtue of the adoption of the child by another.
  • The emancipation of the child prior to the usual age of adulthood. A child may be emancipated with court permission. However, this permission is sparingly granted and usually requires that the child be clearly self-supporting. Emancipation can also take place if the child marries, or enlists in the armed forces of the United States.

Continuation of the Support Obligation

The obligation to provide child support can be continued into adulthood for following reasons:

  • The child’s completion of high school if it is not unreasonably delayed.
  • During the child’s college education if that education is completed on a substantially full-time basis. Many states require that a parent support a child in higher education, including paying the expenses of such education, if it can reasonably be concluded that the parent would have provided such support to a child in a continuing marriage.

Enforcement of the Child Support Obligation

In situations where the parents reside in different states, the following acts provide mechanisms for enforcement for the home state of the child support recipient:

  • Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)
  • Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (URESA), predecessors to the UIFSA
  • (RURESA), the revised successor to the URESA

These same acts, in most states, also provide means for the interstate enforcement of spousal support.