In a contested divorce or paternity proceeding, child custody and support are often focal issues.
In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or child support, the court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the support of the child, including an award retroactive to the date of filing the petition, without regard to marital misconduct, after considering all relevant factors including: (1) The financial needs and resources of the child; (2) The financial resources and needs of the parents; (3) The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved; (4) The physical and emotional condition of the child, and the child’s educational needs; (5) The child’s physical and legal custody arrangements, including the amount of time the child spends with each parent and the reasonable expenses associated with the custody or visitation arrangements; and (6) The reasonable work-related child care expenses of each parent.
The obligation of the parent ordered to make support payments shall abate, in whole or in part, for such periods of time in excess of thirty consecutive days that the other parent has voluntarily relinquished physical custody of a child to the parent ordered to pay child support, notwithstanding any periods of visitation or temporary physical and legal or physical or legal custody pursuant to a judgment of dissolution or legal separation or any modification thereof.
Unless the circumstances of the child manifestly dictate otherwise and the court specifically so provides, the obligation of a parent to make child support payments shall terminate when the child: (1) Dies; (2) Marries; (3) Enters active duty in the military; (4) Becomes self-supporting, provided that the custodial parent has relinquished the child from parental control by express or implied consent; (5) Reaches age eighteen, unless the provisions of subsection 4 or 5 of RSMo. 452.340 apply; or (6) Reaches age twenty-one, unless the provisions of the child support order specifically extend the parental support order past the child’s twenty-first birthday for reasons provided by subsection 4 of RSMo. 452.340.
If the child is physically or mentally incapacitated from supporting himself and insolvent and unmarried, the court may extend the parental support obligation past the child’s eighteenth birthday.
If when a child reaches age eighteen, the child is enrolled in and attending a secondary school program of instruction, the parental support obligation shall continue, if the child continues to attend and progresses toward completion of said program, until the child completes such program or reaches age twenty-one, whichever first occurs.
The court shall consider ordering a parent to waive the right to claim the tax dependency exemption for a child enrolled in an institution of vocational or higher education in favor of the other parent if the application of state and federal tax laws and eligibility for financial aid will make an award of the exemption to the other parent appropriate.
It is the public policy of this state that frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage is in the best interest of the child except for cases where the court specifically finds that such contact is not in the best interest of the child. In order to effectuate this public policy, a court with jurisdiction shall enforce visitation, custody and child support orders in the same manner. A court with jurisdiction may abate, in whole or in part, any past or future obligation of support and may transfer the physical and legal or physical or legal custody of one or more children if it finds that a parent has, without good cause, failed to provide visitation or physical and legal or physical or legal custody to the other parent pursuant to the terms of a judgment of dissolution, legal separation or modifications thereof.
The obligation of a parent to make child support payments may be terminated when the child reaches age twenty-one if the child support order does not specifically require payment of child support beyond age twenty-one for reasons provided by subsection 4 of RSMo. 452.340 or the child is emancipated consistent with Missouri statute.
If you have additional questions about child support, call or come visit the family law attorneys at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!
The Missouri Bar has put together a fantastic introductory publication titled “Family Law Resource Guide,” including an excerpt on child support:
ESTABLISHMENT OF A CHILD SUPPORT ORDER
What is Child Support?
Child support is money that either or both parents are ordered to pay on a regular basis toward the costs of raising their child(ren).
What is a Child Support Order?
Child support may be ordered by the courts or by the Missouri Family Support Division – Child Support Enforcement (“FSD”). The order specifies how often and how much a parent is to pay for child support. When minor children are involved, a child support order is included in a dissolution of marriage (divorce) or paternity judgment.
What Amount of Child Support Will I Receive?
The Supreme Court of Missouri establishes guidelines (also known as “Form 14”) for the courts and FSD to use for the calculation of child support. Form 14 takes into account several factors, including the gross incomes of each parent, maintenance being paid to one of the parents, the number of children, the cost of work-related child care, the cost of health insurance for the children, and the amount of time the children spend overnight with each parent during the year. The courts and FSD presume that the Form 14 calculated amount of child support is the correct amount to award; however, based on the evidence, they may choose to award a different amount. The Supreme Court of Missouri has also issued Directions, Comments For Use and Examples For Completion Of Form No. 14.
Am I Entitled to a Child Support Order?
If you are a party to proceedings for dissolution of your marriage, legal separation or paternity, and the children are either fully or partially in your custody, you may ask the court for an award of child support (including temporary child support while your case is pending). When the court issues its final judgment, you may be entitled to obtain an order for child support if you are awarded a period of physical custody of a minor child. If a court has not entered a child support order, FSD may be able to issue a child support order on your behalf.
Who Can Modify a Child Support Order?
Only the court may modify court-ordered child support. Child support may be modified only upon a showing of changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms of the original order unreasonable. A child support order entered by FSD may be modified by either FSD or the court.
How Do Visitation and Joint Custody Affect Child Support?
A parent may not deny court-ordered visitation/custody. If a parent denies visitation, the court may reduce child support if it finds that the parent receiving support has failed, without good cause, to provide visitation as ordered. The court’s order may be based upon the parties’ agreement. Additionally, if the parent receiving support has voluntarily given up physical custody of the child to the parent paying support for more than 30 days, support for that period may abate. This is not triggered by periods of visitation or temporary custody. The amount of child support that the parent paying support need not pay must be calculated by FSD for a child support order originating there, or by the court.
In My Dissolution Judgment, the Court Did Not Order Child Support. Can I Now Apply?
Depending on the terms in your judgment, you may be able to seek child support through the courts through a modification of your judgment.
My Spouse and I are Separated, but Neither Has Filed for Divorce or Legal Separation. Our Children Live With Me. How Can I Get Child Support for My Kids?
FSD may be able to obtain a child support order for the custodial parent. Without filing for legal separation or dissolution of marriage, the court will not be able to order an award of child support.
Who Keeps Track of My Child Support Payments?
The court may order that support payments be made directly to the person entitled to receive the support or to the Missouri Family Support Payment Center in Jefferson City. The Family Support Center maintains records in the Automated Child Support System, which lists the amount of payments, when they are made, and the names and addresses of parties affected by the order. If a party sends his or her payments directly to the other party, both should keep track of the payments made/received.
FAMILY SUPPORT DIVISION – CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT
What is the Family Support Division – Child Support Enforcement?
The State of Missouri established the Family Support Division – Child Support Enforcement (“FSD”), to assist parents and other persons in obtaining child support orders and in collecting child support.
How Can I Sign Up for FSD Services?
To apply, submit an application online or mail it to your nearest county office. Once you’ve submitted your application, FSD will open a case with the information you provided. FSD will send you a letter confirming the case opening and provide you with contact information and a case number.
Are There Any Financial Qualifications to Obtain FSD Services?
No, the services of FSD are available to all persons entitled to receive support, regardless of income level.
Can I Get Child Support If I Am Receiving State Aid?
As a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) recipient, you have assigned your support rights to the state. The state may try to establish a support order if none exists, and will be a party to any attempt to modify the support order.
The Missouri Department of Social Services’ nearest child support office is located at 1110 E. 7th St., Suite 200, Joplin, Missouri, 64801. You can contact it at 417-629-3080.
The Father of My Child and I Are Not Married. Can I Receive Child Support From Him?
Yes, even if you are not married, you may receive child support. Once paternity is established, you may be able to obtain a child support order. Child support in a paternity suit may be ordered by the court or FSD.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Order Establishing Paternity?
If the father of the child is unwilling to cooperate in establishing paternity, and it must be proven that he is the father, establishing paternity can be a long process. Every case is different, and the time span varies widely. If, on the other hand, the father admits his paternity, the case can proceed fairly quickly.
Will a Blood Test Be Done in My Paternity Case?
In cases where the father denies paternity, paternity tests will usually be performed on the mother, the child and the alleged father in order to determine the probability of paternity. These tests usually consist of swabbing the inside the mouths of all parties, instead of a blood test.
ENFORCEMENT OF A CHILD SUPPORT ORDER
The Other Parent Isn’t Paying Per the Child Support Order. What Do I Do?
Once you have a child support order, if the support is not being paid, you will need to enforce the order. You may attempt to enforce the order privately with the parent paying support, through the court or through FSD.
How Can a Child Support Order Be Enforced?
Because a wage withholding can issue without notice to the party paying support, it is usually the quickest and most effective way to enforce a child support order. If the parent paying support becomes delinquent in an amount equal to one month’s total support obligation, his or her income is subject to withholding without further notice. The withholding includes an additional 50 percent above the ordered support amount to pay the parent receiving support for the unpaid support. A child support order may also be enforced through other methods, including real estate liens, personal property liens and attachments. However, these methods are usually more time-consuming and may involve large cash deposits by you.
What is a Civil Contempt of Court?
A civil contempt order is another means for the court to enforce a child support order. The court may order a parent sent to jail due to his or her failure to pay ordered child support.
OUT OF STATE ISSUES
What If the Parent Paying Support Does Not Reside in Missouri?
The fact that the parent paying support does not live in Missouri may make child support collection more difficult. However, all 50 states have passed laws intended to make collecting child support easier. You may want to speak with your attorney about registering your child support order in the state where the parent paying support resides. FSD has the ability to cooperate with similar agencies in other states. Together, they may file a petition under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act.
What Happens to the Child Support If I Move Out of Missouri?
In most cases, child support is not affected if you leave the state. If you experience problems collecting child support, contact the FSD agency near your new home. Generally, after a judgment is issued with custody provisions in the judgment, you will either need the other parent’s consent to move or a court order allowing you to move. There are very specific actions you need to take if you want to move (with your children). Contact your attorney for that information.
TERMINATION OF CHILD SUPPORT
When Does Child Support Terminate?
Unless the child support order states otherwise, child support terminates when the child: (1) Dies; (2) Marries; (3) Enters active duty in the military; (4) Becomes self-supporting; (5) Reaches 18, unless the child is physically or mentally incapacitated, or the child is attending a secondary school program; or (6) Reaches 21, unless the order extends support past the child’s 21st birthday due to physical or mental incapacity.
Who Can Terminate a Child Support Order?
Child support may be terminated by the court, FSD or the parties for any of the reasons stated above. The parties may terminate support without court or FSD involvement if: (1) The child reaches 21 and the order does not require support beyond 21; (2) The parent receiving support provides a sworn statement notifying the parent paying support of the child’s emancipation, and the statement is filed with the court or FSD (whichever entered the order); (3) The parent paying support files a sworn statement with the court or FSD (whichever entered the order) stating why the child is emancipated, that statement is served on the party receiving support, and the party receiving support agrees or fails to respond within 30 days.
If the parent receiving support denies that the child is emancipated (per 3 above), the court or FSD shall hold a hearing to determine whether to terminate child support.
Check out the rest of the Missouri Bar’s Family Law Resource Guide. You may also be interested in the Missouri Department of Social Services’ website.