With parenthood comes the responsibility to financially support one’s children. While that support occurs naturally when children live together with both of their parents, the issue of child support becomes more challenging, and often contentious, when parents occupy different households. The end of the parents’ romantic relationship does not affect their mutual duty to their children. To ensure that children receive adequate financial support when parents separate or divorce, District of Columbia courts will issue a formal order for child support upon the request of either parent.
A child support order provides for one parent to pay the other (or, under certain circumstances, a third party), a specific amount of money on a monthly basis for the child’s support. These funds are intended to meet the child’s ongoing living expenses. In D.C., child support continues until the child reaches the age of 21; this is in contrast to most states, which terminate child support at age 18. While most child support cases are between parents, in the District of Columbia anyone who lives with, and cares for, a child may petition the court for child support, even if they do not have court-ordered guardianship or custody.
In most circumstances, child support is calculated using the D.C. Child Support Guidelines, a mathematical formula that applies to families with a combined annual income of less than $240,000. The D.C. Child Support Guidelines takes into account the following considerations:
Unless the parents agree to a different payment amount, and the court approves this arrangement, the amount of support indicated by the D.C. Child Support Guidelines is the presumptive support amount. However, in certain limited circumstances where the D.C. Child Support Guideline amount would be unfair, the court may order a higher or lower amount of support with a detailed, written explanation for the deviation.
Once the amount of child support is determined by the court and an order for child support entered, child support is generally collected by means of wage withholding from the pay of the parent required to pay support. In situations in which wage withholding does not occur, such as with a self-employed parent, the parent obligated to pay child support is responsible for making the payments directly. To assist in managing this process, these payments may be made through the Child Support Clearinghouse at the Office of the Attorney General. Private direct payments also are possible if both parents agree.
When both parents have regular income from employment, and have a combined income of less than $240,000, calculation of child support is fairly straightforward. Often, however, there are circumstances that can complicate this calculation, including:
In situations like these, the court may arrive at a child support award that feels inequitable to either the payor or the recipient of child support. Accordingly, it is critical to work with an experienced child support attorney who understands the complexities of child support calculation matters in the District of Columbia and can present effective evidence to the court to best support your position.
Given that a child may be entitled to receive support payments for more than two decades, it is reasonable to expect that the amount of child support may need to change during that time. To accommodate this situation, either parent may file a motion with the court requesting to increase, decrease, terminate, or temporarily suspend child support payments.
The person requesting the modification needs to show the court that there has been a “substantial and material change” either in the parent’s ability to pay since the time of the current child support order, or in the child’s ongoing needs. As a guideline, the courts in the District of Columbia view that such a change has occurred if there would be a difference of at least 15% between the old and new child support amounts.
Specifically, various life events can also warrant a change in the child support amount to be paid, including a change in custody arrangements, a parent’s job loss or promotion, a change in a parent’s or child’s health, and more. If you believe you have a change in circumstances that would make child support modification appropriate, you should consider filing for a modification immediately as child support can be modified retroactively to the date the motion for modification was filed, but no earlier.
If a parent fails to pay child support as required, the other parent may need to ask the court to enforce the child support order. This is typically achieved by filing a motion with the court for contempt. Specifically, if there is a valid D.C. child support order in effect, and the payor has the means to pay child support, but is more than 30 days delinquent, he or she may be held in contempt. In the District of Columbia, the law presumes if there is a child support order presently in effect, then the payor has the means to pay that order. Accordingly, when such issues are litigated, it is the burden of the payor to prove to the court that he/she had no means to pay the child support. If a court concludes that the payor had the means to pay, the judge will order the payor to make up missed payments and may order other punishment as well – including possible incarceration. Both parents seeking enforcement of a child support order, and those defending against a motion for contempt, benefit from the advice and advocacy of an experienced D.C. child support attorney.
As a parent, you already make it a priority to support your child. At Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield, we are equally committed to preserving your financial well-being while helping you with your goal of ensuring that your child’s needs are met. We have decades of experience in child support matters occurring within the District of Columbia, including initial child support determinations, modifications, complex child support issues, and enforcement actions. Facts matter in child support negotiations and disputes, and we know how to marshal the facts in every child support case to our clients’ greatest advantage.
Our experience includes working both with recipients, and with payors, of child support, and our skill gives us the insight needed to advocate effectively in the most challenging circumstances.
We invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual situation and learn how we can help you with your child support concerns.