Child Support 101

People frequently ask me questions about child support. Whenever children and custody enter the equation in family matters, child support becomes a looming issue. Child support does not belong to divorce proceedings alone, but is also an issue in paternity cases, guardianship matters, and sometimes Orders of Protections.

So what is child support and who pays it? Child support is a financial benefit for the child upon termination of a marriage or other relationship. It is a periodic payment made by one parent to the custodial parent, or guardian, of the child. It is more common for the parent who is not the “residential parent” of the child to pay child support. A residential parent is the one with whom the child resides with for the majority of the time.

Child support can be calculated in a few different ways. Sometimes both parties are able to agree on the child support dollar amount. However, when both parties are unable to come to an agreement, child support is calculated based on a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s “net income” based on Illinois’s Child Support Guidelines, which can be found in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Net income is the total of all income from all sources, minus the following deductions: (a) Federal income tax; (b) State income tax; (c) Social Security (FICA payments); (d) Mandatory retirement contributions required by law or as a condition of employment; (e) Union dues; (f) Dependent and individual health/hospitalization insurance premiums; (g) Prior obligation of support or maintenance actually paid pursuant to a court order; (h) Expenditures for repayment of debts that represent reasonable and necessary expenses for the production of income, medical expenditures necessary to preserve life or health, reasonable expenditures for the benefit of the child and the other parent, exclusive of gifts. Determining the “net income” of a party can be challenging at times especially in cases where a person is self-employed or earning cash income. Unlike other states, Illinois courts do not look at the custodial parent’s income when establishing a child support obligation.

Generally, support orders can be changed or modified when circumstances change for either parent of the child. Requests for modifications may be requested by either parent upon proof of an ongoing substantial change in circumstances. Typically, such “substantial changes” will be events like a child turning 18-years-old, a job loss, increased child expenses, and other similar circumstances.

There are general parameters for what child support can be used for. In Illinois, the duty of child support owed to a child includes the obligation to provide the reasonable and necessary educational, physical, mental and emotional health needs of the child. The purpose of child support is to protect the child from the impact of the divorce, meaning the child’s lifestyle should not be negatively impacted as a result of the parents’ separation or divorce. The child should enjoy the lifestyle he or she would have enjoyed if the parents did not separate.

Child support is used to provide a stable environment of a child. Typically, support is used to purchase food, clothing, medicine, pay for day care, utilities, housing, and other expenses associated with raising and housing a child. Child support is used to provide for the child’s day-to-day care and needs. The parent receiving child support does not need to account for how the support is being used. Further, the paying parent cannot dictate in what manner the other parent can use the support.

So when does a child support obligation end? Typically, obligation to pay child support terminates when the child graduates high school or reaches the age of 19, whichever occurs first. However, support may be extended by a court if a parent can show that the need for support is required after the child reaches the age of majority. Some examples would be if a child has special needs because of a physical or mental disability or is attending a post-high school educational facility. If the child is not disabled after the age of majority, the court may order that, in lieu of child support, the parents contribute to the education expenses of a child for post-high school education (e.g. college, university, trade school, et cetera). Such expenses would include, but are not limited to, room, board, dues, tuition, transportation, books, fees, registration and application costs, medical expenses, including medical insurance and dental expenses, and living expenses during the school year. Any support obligation made after the age of majority, unless it is for a disabled child, terminates once that child obtains an undergraduate degree or completes their trade school training.

If you would like more information or have questions in regard to child support or any other family law matter, please contact Amil Alkass, a Partner with Lavelle Law, Ltd. at aalkass@lavellelaw.com or at (847) 705-1020.