Is Child Support Always a Requirement?

Child support is an emotional topic for anyone who's ever been involved in a situation where custody is shared or otherwise separate. In most cases, fathers pay child support to mothers who have custody of their children. In others, mothers pay child support to custodial fathers. An agreed-upon amount is paid on an agreed-upon schedule. This is usually ordered by the presiding court. That's why knowing what to expect is important when it comes time for your child custody resolution.

But is this how it always works? Is child support always required? Before we discuss when child support is required and when it's not, let's go over why it's paid to begin with.

The Purpose of Child Support

Child support guidelines vary from state to state, so depending on where you live, the rules may not be the same, but the basic idea remains the same. Child support is meant to enable a child to maintain a standard of living similar to what they experienced when their parents lived together, or would have experienced had their parents stayed living together. When parents are divorced or separated, or never lived together in the first place, it affects a child in numerous ways, and child support is meant to fill in this gap in any way possible.

While most divorce cases that involve minor children include some type of child support being ordered, there are situations in which it's not required. Here are a few of this situations in which this is the case.

When You Have an Agreement with the Other Parent

If you and your ex agree to a settlement that doesn't entail child support, a court will usually give the agreement its blessing. These agreements are generally negotiated by the lawyers of both parties and take place because the noncustodial parent has a limited income or a lower income than the custodial parent.

When There Is a Significant Change in Custody

When the child receiving the support moves in or spends more time living with the parent paying the support, child support payments are often completely eliminated. This is also true if one of the parents passes away and the child's living situation changes.

When Child Support Is Terminated

Termination of court-mandated child support is possible, but rare. One of the reasons it's so rare is because getting it terminated is a long and tenuous process that often costs more than it's worth. There are also few cases in which the court actually eliminates payments that were court-ordered in the first place. Usually, the best you can hope for is a modification of the terms, which may be granted given life events such as job loss, serious injury, or a change in household income.

When Minors Are Emancipated or Join the Military

Some states require child support to be paid until a child graduates high school, while others only require it until the child is 18 years old. The exception to this is when minors declare themselves emancipated or join the military, in which case they are considered to be financially responsible for themselves.

When You Still Have to Pay Child Support

Usually, if you have a minor child that you don't have sole custody of, you'll have to pay child support, regardless of the circumstances. Even if your former significant other is withholding visitation, you still must fulfill your obligations. Visitation and child support are two completely separate issues, so don't intermix the two. Two wrongs don't make a right. If you aren't receiving the visitation that has been agreed to, address that individually. Your case in this regard only grows stronger if you demonstrate a willingness to continue making payments through difficult times.

Child Support for Special Needs and Disabled Children

Many people have kids with special needs or disabilities that require extra care. If their needs are extensive, you should expect to pay support beyond their 18th birthday.

Child Support During College

Sometimes, child support is used to pay for a child's education beyond high school. Many states allow for this kind of support, and some parents even account for this in their original child support agreement.


In most cases, court-ordered child support must be paid in full and on time, come rain or shine. But, when coming up with a child support agreement, it's helpful to know that you and your former spouse have options. Having a lawyer draw up a draft of this type of agreement can take some of the guesswork out of the process and, hopefully, when all is said and done, you can agree on an arrangement that works for both sides.

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