January 11, 2019

Cheshire Citizen Look at Child Support and Divorce – Part 1, The Basics

The Cheshire Citizen provided an opportunity to spread the word about the very basics of child support and divorce.  Here is Part 1, which was published on January 10.  Look for Part  2 to be published in The Cheshire Citizen next month. 

It is important that each of the divorcing spouses understand their obligations for child support under Connecticut law.  If not understood and considered, those obligations may result in unexpected financial responsibilities and frustrated expectations.

Both spouses have an obligation to support a biological child of the husband and wife born during the marriage – obviously.  They are also responsible for the of support of a child adopted by the husband and wife or the same-sex spouses during the marriage. Typically, traditional and same sex-spouses must support a child born during the marriage as a result of assisted reproductive technology.

A divorcing spouse does not have an obligation to support a stepchild, even if the stepparent was the family’s primary breadwinner during the marriage.  A parent’s support responsibility is not reduced or eliminated based on the parent’s visitation or custody rights, or lack of them, or whether or not the parent utilizes their rights.

Divorcing parents are often surprised to learn that their child support obligations may be greater than those of parents who remain married.  For example, outside of divorce, parents are required to financially support their child until the child’s 18th birthday.  But in a divorce, a child is entitled to be supported past the age of 18 for as long as he is a full time high school student but not past age 19.  Certain disabled children are entitled to support by their divorced parents through age 21.  Unlike parents who remain married, the court has the power to require divorced parents to pay for private elementary or high school or religious instruction, contribute to college expenses, provide medical and dental insurance, pay for elective medical treatment, or maintain, life insurance on their life for the benefit of a child.

Determining how much a divorcing parent must pay to or will receive from the other parent isn’t always easy.  The State of Connecticut has issued the “Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines” which are designed to provide a relatively simple mechanical method for determining child support.  In most cases, the Guidelines work as intended.  But frequently they don’t.  The assumptions on which the Guidelines are based may not be true for a particular couple.  So figuring out the correct inputs is sometimes more art than science.  Strong legal advocacy can have a significant impact on the final child support order that will be fair to the child and the parents.  See next month’s column “Child Support and Divorce – Part II, The Child Support Guidelines” for more about the Guidelines and how they work.

Finally, bear in mind that child support obligations are both an obligation of the parents and a right of the child.  In a divorce case, judges look out for the child’s financial needs rather than simply relying on the parents. So, divorcing parents can’t ignore the law even when they both agree how or when to ignore it or believe that doing so is fair to them both and to the child. The ultimate decisions about how a child’s financial needs will be met going forward, and whether or not the parent’s agreement is acceptable, belong to a Superior Court Judge.  Working with a divorce lawyer can help prevent divorcing parents from experiencing the emotional and financial distress that occurs when a Judge rejects their agreement, refuses to divorce them and sends the still married couple back to the drawing board to address child support issues.


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