Negotiating and enforcing child support are two of the most important components of a divorce or separation where children are involved. They can also be two of the most challenging and emotionally fraught factors for divorcing parents to deal with. A child support attorney, who works within the framework of family law but concentrates on child support issues, can bring clarity and a sense of equity to the child support process. These steps are key to hiring a lawyer who will help negotiate, secure and enforce the child support you are due.
Make a list of your child support goals.
Gather information on your state's child support policies and restrictions.
Determine challenges you are facing, and what help you need from an attorney.
Begin your search for a child support attorney, and ask these important hiring questions.
Understand the cost, and the value, of hiring a child support attorney.
Make a list of child support goals.If you are seeking child support from your spouse, you may be overwhelmed with questions about what to ask for and what to expect. Different states apply different calculations to determining child support amounts, and you will need to comply with your state's policies as you negotiate with your spouse. But before you delve into state policy, it is often a good idea to think about how much child support you believe you need, and what you want covered by this support. By drafting a list of the items that are important to you in the scope of supporting your child or children, you can begin to take some of the emotion out of the child support negotiation process. You may not get everything you want, but you will have an outline of the expenses and needs that are your top priorities, as you focus on your children and their well being. You might consider these factors:
- Basic necessities; generally: food, shelter, and clothing
- Medical care, including insurance premiums
- Education fees
- Childcare fees
- Activities such as sports and extracurricular classes
ExperTip: Don't underestimate the cost of education—even a "free" education. Just because your child attends a public school does not mean that you don't incur education expenses. When going over your child support objectives, make sure to consider school-related needs such as textbooks, school materials, uniforms, food costs and tutoring.
Gather information on your state's child support policies and restrictions.As noted above, each state sets its own policies for child support calculations and limitations. It is important to remember that no matter what you think you are owed, or need, to support your child or children, the calculation of those amounts will ultimately be determined by your state's child support regulations. The three main models used by states to calculate child support are:
The Income Shares Model
This model is based on the idea that the child should receive the same proportion of parental income that they would have received if their parents lived together. It assumes that in a household where the parents live together, they combine their income and anything that is spent benefits of all household members, including the children.
The Percentage of Income ModelIn this model, support is a percentage of only the noncustodial parent's income. There are two variations of this model, one based on a flat percentage, and one based on a varying percentage.
The Melson ModelThis model is a version of the Income Shares Model that takes into consideration specific public policy judgments designed to ensure that each parent's basic needs are met in addition to the children's.
You can find your state's child support guidelines here.
Determine challenges you are facing, and what help you need from an attorney.Not all child support issues require the assistance of legal counsel, but most benefit from an attorney's specialized knowledge and experience.
If you need help collecting child support:A child support lawyer can make the process of implementing, adjusting, and enforcing child support, much easier on parents. A lawyer can also help ensure a positive outcome for your support case. Lawyers understand the laws surrounding child support, how to calculate a fair child support amount, and how custody influences support. These professionals are familiar with the court system, and the processes of filing paperwork, attending hearings, and building effective cases. For any parent with a complicated case, a child support attorney can present knowledgeable, compelling arguments in court, saving parents from additional stress during an emotional time.
If you are seeking representation for a child support hearing:A child support lawyer is not required for a support hearing, but can be a great benefit, especially if you are in the midst of a divorce, or if you and your spouse disagree on custody. If you choose not to have legal representation for a child support hearing, make sure you watch your mail for hearing notices and carefully read all documents they receive. All forms should be filled out with accurate facts and with no bias or manipulation efforts. Hearings begin on time, and a late appearance can negatively affect your case. Be prepared to answer all questions honestly, present a valid case based on the law and the reality of your circumstances, and make requests that are realistic and viable. Not all rulings will be positive, and you should anticipate this in advance.
If you are paying child support and want to reduce the amount you are paying:If you are a parent who is paying child support, there are several factors that may warrant requesting a reduction in the amount you pay. These include the loss of a job, the sudden arising of new financial obligations such as caring for an elderly parent, a sharp increase in an expense such as health insurance, or a change in your custody arrangement. In order to request a child support payment reduction, you must file a Motion to Modify, which formally asks the court for the reduction you seek. It's important to understand that the court is not obligated to grant this motion, and that in almost any case, you will be required to show proof of the changed circumstances you are claiming. A child support attorney can assist with the filing process and may increases your chances of success.
ExperTip: Child support modification orders aren't just for parents who pay child support. If you are a custodial parent receiving child support and you find yourself in a situation where your financial circumstances have changed—you've lost your job, for example—you can ask the court for an increase in child support. You can also do so if the noncustodial parent who pays you child support experiences a significant increase in income.
Begin your search for a child support attorney, and ask these important questions.As you begin to research child support attorneys, look for a lawyer who has significant experience working specifically with child support claims. Attorneys often have different areas of focus, such as working with parents seeking child support versus parents who have issues with paying child support. For most clients, the best child support attorney is someone who:
Has extensive experience in child support cases
Has a history of favorable outcomes in this specialty
Is very knowledgeable about state and local family law
What is your experience with support cases?
How many cases have you worked with that are similar to mine?
Will you be working solo or with a team of other attorneys?
What kinds of outcomes have you been able to achieve in similar cases?
What is your fee for a child support case?
Where does my case stand?
What are the next steps?
Do you need more information from me?
Will this case require mediation or a trial to resolve?
Understand the cost, and value, of hiring a child support attorney.The cost of child support attorneys can differ from one case to the next depending on the case’s complexity and duration. Most attorneys charge a flat fee or an hourly rate. In some cases, a flat fee can include an additional payment clause if a case turns out to be more challenging than initially expected. A free attorney consultation should include a price quote. In general, a child support attorney charges between $100 and $500 per hour. For uncontested child support cases, where both parents more or less agree on the child support arrangement, a parent can expect the total cost to vary from about $2,000 to about $5,000. Contested cases, where parents cannot reach agreement, can run upwards of $20,000 in legal costs.
In general, each party in a child support case is responsible for their own legal fees. However, there may be exceptions in some cases. If one parent makes substantially more money than the other or cannot afford a lawyer’s services, the court may order different payment arrangements.
Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here is our list of the best child support attorneys near you.