How is Child Support Calculated?
The State of Alabama sets guidelines that calculate child support. Unusual issues regarding care of children and/or finances or an agreement of the parties can change this standard calculation.
Child support is set using the income of the parents, costs of health insurance and which parent pays it, the costs of childcare and which parent pays it, and the difference between the income of the parents.
Can We Agree to a Lower or Higher Amount of Child Support?
Parents can agree on more or less than the standard child support amount if that amount is approved by a judge. Sometimes parents choose to accept a lower amount if they are in a good enough situation to care for the children without requiring that the other parent pay the full amount. Sometimes parents will agree to a higher amount if a parent wants to go above and beyond the guidelines.
Child Support Modification
Remember that no matter what, either if support was initially determined by agreement of the parties or by a court of law, under Alabama law child support can always be modified! Modifications can be obtained due to a change of circumstances of the parties including a change in the income of either parent higher or lower, changes in costs of health care, changes in costs of child care, changes in the age and relative needs of the child (expenses, activities, etc.). The benchmark for requesting a modification based on a change in income is about 10% of an increase or decrease in pay or costs of either party.
You can always go back to court and request a modification of child support, but the trick is that only a court can modify child support. You must go back to court for any and all changes to support! Even if you lost your job and the custodial parent won the lottery, you would still be on the hook for support until a judge officially declared differently. Sometimes both parties agree to a lower or higher amount based on circumstances but never get their Decree modified. According to the court, though, the payer is still on the hook for the original amount. For example, your former spouse might informally agree to take $200 less per month for years. That person could take you back to court someday and get you for all those past months if the court order was never officially changed.
Garnishment/Income Withholding Orders
Income Withholding Orders can garnish a person’s paycheck through their employer for the amount of child support owed each month. The support owed can be taken out before the paying party ever sees it! This can also be used to withdraw past-owed support.
Past-Owed Child Support/Failure to Pay Child Support
Please see our section on Divorce Contempt for information on past-due or failure to pay child support.
Termination of Child Support
Most child support terminates when the child or children reach the age of majority (19), marries, or becomes self supporting (as in, gets their own job or moves out of the house). However, child support does not end automatically when any of these things happen! You must go back to court and seek a termination of support for it to end. For example, if your son or daughter moved out of the house at 18 to go to college, or turned 19 when most support ends, you would still be responsible for paying child support unless you went to court and officially got a Judge to declare that child support had ceased.
You must go back to court for any and all changes to support. Please see our section on Child Support Modification.
The Alabama Code section on child support may be found here, in the Alabama Child Support Code.
Always remember that each and every case is different; sound legal advice can only be attained by speaking directly to a knowledgeable and experienced attorney!