Supporting your children until they turn 21 years old is a legal responsibility. That obligation could manifest itself in a court order. If you’re being sued for child support, you may need assistance on how to respond if you don’t believe you’re the parent or you’re concerned about your financial ability to pay support.
Are You the Father?
If you’re facing a lawsuit for paternity or for child support, you might contest the fact that you’re the father. If so, our Bronx child support lawyers can advise you on getting a blood test to exclude you as the father. This may be especially important if the mother gave birth during your marriage. The law presumes that you’re the father of a child born during your marriage.
Where you don’t question paternity, you might consider filing an acknowledgement of that fact with the court. While this document may subject you to a child support obligation, it also affords you rights as a parent. Specifically, you can seek visitation rights and even custody of the child. Further, acknowledgment can save you the time and money that you otherwise would spend in a paternity lawsuit. Note that once you sign the acknowledgment, it carries the same weight as a court order declaring you the father and undoing the admission is very difficult.
Establishing the Amount
Assuming you’re a non-custodial parent, the issue turns to how much the court will order you to pay per month.
So long as your income, as defined by Section 240 of the Domestic Relations Law, does not exceed $143,000, your monthly obligation consists of a percentage of income. The portion depends on the number of children for whom you must pay support to the custodian parent. For one child, it is 17 percent of you and the custodial parent’s combined monthly income. Your obligation is one-fourth of combined income if you have two children, 29 percent for three children and 31 percent for four. Should you and the other parent have five or more, the amount comes to at least 35 percent of the combined monthly income.
For combined incomes above $143,000, the court may, but doesn’t have to, deviate from the percentage guidelines.
If your income falls below the Federal Poverty Level, your child support will be set at $25 per month and responsibility for what your behind will not exceed $500. Where a non-custodial parent makes less than the New York Self-Support Reserve, monthly child support is capped at $50 per month.
In the child support calculation, the court won’t stop at your employment income. Other sources include workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, disability payments, veterans benefits, pensions, retirements, stipends, fellowships and annuities. Even alimony paid to you by the other parent counts.
Further, the court could “impute” income to you on a finding that you have suppressed your income in bad faith. That is, you have become unemployed or reduced your income to avoid paying child support. Attribution of income can also apply to, for instance, supposed business or employment expense reimbursements that you appropriate to your personal use.
Modification of Child Support
Should you lose a job or take a significant pay cut, our Bronx child support lawyers can help you lower the child support payment. To get a reduction, you must show the court that your circumstances have substantially changed since the court originally entered the order or last changed it.
If you experience a significant increase in your income, the custodial parent may ask a court to raise your monthly support payment. Turning down pay raises or higher paying jobs may not prove to be an effective strategy, as a court might treat that higher potential as your actual income in modifying the order upward.
A court can also modify child support as each of your children reaches age 21. Remember that the percentage of the parents’ combined income turns on the number of children you must support. Further, if you become the custodial parent, then you may become the recipient parent and the other becomes responsible for child support.
Enforcement of Child Support
Jail constitutes only one of the potential enforcement methods the custodial parent or a child support enforcement agency can employ. Lottery winnings, tax refunds and bank accounts can also become sources for catching up and staying current on child support. Those who fall behind may lose their drivers’ licenses and have the delinquencies appear on credit reports.
If a parent or enforcement agency wants to hold you in contempt, you may defend on the grounds you are not able to pay child support. Layoffs, disabilities and other reasons for not having income, through no fault of your own, may negate a finding that you willfully avoided child support. They might also afford you a basis to ask for a reduction of your obligation.
While you’re under a child support order, don’t stop paying simply because the custodial parent obstructs or denies visitation. One of our lawyers can help you try to get visitation or custody or handle other child support issues you may encounter.