Child Custody and Support Law and Legal Definition

There are two kinds of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Custody battles most often arise in a divorce or separation, requiring a court's determination of which parent, relative or other adult should have physical and/or legal control and responsibility for a minor (child) under 18. When both parents share custody of a child after a divorce it is called joint custody. Joint custody may be either legal or physical custody. Physical custody designates where the child will actually live, whereas legal custody gives the custodial person(s) the right to make decisions for the child's welfare. Child custody can be decided by a local court in a divorce or if a child, relative, close friend or state agency questions whether one or both parents is unfit, absent, dead, in prison or dangerous to the child's well-being. In such cases custody can be awarded to a grandparent or other relative, a foster parent or an orphanage or other organization or institution. In some jurisdictions, if a child is old enough, their preferences are taken into consideration.

The basic consideration on custody matters is supposed to be the best interests of the child or children. Mental anguish suffered by the child due to visitation or lack thereof is one factor that may be considered in determining a child's best interest. In most cases the non-custodial parent is given visitation rights, which may include weekends, parts of vacations and other occasions. The custody order may be modifed if circumstances warrant. Such circumstances vary in each case, but may include loss of employment, disability, or extraordinary medical bills.

Courts may require the parents to consult with each other prior to any major decisions being made. Disagreements between the parties may be resolved by the parties going to mediation, returning to court, or by one parent having "final decision-making power". This decision-making authority may be broadly stated or limited, such as in emergencies, or be specifically related to certain areas of the child's life.

Child support is a court-ordered payment by one parent to the custodial parent of a minor child after divorce (dissolution) or separation. Usually the amount of support is based on the income of both parents, the number of children, the expenses of the custodial parent, and any special needs of the child. In many states or locales the amount is determined by a chart which factors in all these figures. It may also include health plan coverage, school tuition or other expenses, and may be reduced during periods of extended visitation such as summer vacations. Child care expenses (resulting from employment), medical, and educational expenses will usually be pro-rated in proportion to the parent's income. Generally, child support payments are for the ordinary expenses of food, shelter, clothing, education and medication needs for the children only. Child support generally continues until the child reaches 18 years, graduates from high school, is emancipated (no longer lives with either parent), or, in some cases, continues after the child reaches 18, such as duiring college attendance. Some states have child support guidelines for determining what expenses are included and in what amount.

The award of child support may be modified by the court upon petition of either party if a change of circumstance of the parents or child is proven. Child support is separate from alimony (spousal support) which is for the ex-spouse's support. Child support is not deductible from gross income for tax purposes nor is it taxed as income, unlike alimony, which is deductible by the payer and taxed as the adult recipient's income.

Child support and visitation are independent obligations. You can’t stop paying support if visitation is denied, and you can’t deny visitation for nonpayment of child support. A person who denies ordered visitation or fails to pay ordered child support can be held in contempt of court and states have various remedies, which vary by state, for pursuing claims against parents who owe back child support. Such remedies may include driver's license suspension, wage garnishment, and attaching unemployment compensation, worker's compensation, and federal tax refunds, among others. Local law should be consulted for specific requirements in your area.

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program is a Federal/State/local partnership to collect child support: we want to send the strongest possible message that parents cannot walk away from their children. Our goals are to ensure that children have the financial support of both their parents, to foster responsible behavior towards children, and to reduce welfare costs.

The CSE Program was established in 1975 as Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. It functions in all States and territories, through the State/county Social Services Department, Attorney General's Office or Department of Revenue. Most States work with prosecuting attorneys, other law enforcement agencies, and officials of family or domestic relations courts to carry out the program at the local level.

State Child Support Programs locate noncustodial parents, establish paternity, establish and enforce support orders, and collect child support payments. While programs vary from state to state, their services are available to all parents who need them.

If the Child Support Enforcement Program cannot locate the noncustodial parent with the information provided by the custodial parent, it must try to locate the noncustodial parent through the state parent locator service. The state uses various information sources such as telephone directories, motor vehicle registries, tax files, and employment and unemployment records. The state also can ask to locate the noncustodial parent. Data from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the Selective Service System, the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, the National Personnel Records Center, and State Employment Security Agencies can then be collected.