In June, Halle Berry was ordered to pay $16,000 a month in child support to her ex, Gabriel Aubry. If you've had a child with someone you never married and you're not with anymore, figuring out shared expenses should be done right away, or it could cost you big bucks. Okay, not Halle Berry big bucks, but still. Filing for child support can be really confusing, so we asked Kristi L. Terranova, an associate at Pashman Stein in New Jersey for legal advice.
What is the first step when filing for child support if you were not married to the father or mother?
Understanding it's the obligation of both parents. Next is to establish paternity, which can be done by: 1) both parents signing the certificate of parentage; or 2) filing a complaint for a legal determination of paternity (everyone goes for a quick, painless swab DNA test). Next, file an application in the county family division court where the baby currently resides.
Do you need a lawyer to do this?
No, but it's best to consult with an attorney who specializes in family law so you can understand your rights and obligations, what you may or may not be entitled to, as well as the information you should provide and receive from the other parent.
What documents do both parties need when filing?
It depends upon each parent's ability to pay and how the parent will support the child. If each parent is a W-2 employee, then the parties would exchange the last several years of W-2s, tax returns and pay stubs. If a parent is not a W-2 earner, then the process may become a bit more complicated and involved to determine the parent's ability to support the child. This may include, but is not limited to, the exchange of case information statements; financial statements, including bank, credit card, pension; or retirement account statements.
What if a parent is self-employed?
Request the business's tax returns and accounting information and/or request to hire an expert to review the books. The fairness of a child support award is dependent upon the accurate determination of a parent's net income. If the court finds that either parent is, without just cause, voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, it will impute income to that parent (that is, come up with a figure for how much income the parent should be expected to earn).
What does child support cover?
In New Jersey, where I practice, awards include the child's share of expenses for housing, food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, unreimbursed health care up to and including the first $250 per child per year, and miscellaneous items. There may be certain adjustments made to the child support award.
Will a judge allow for extras like camp, team sports or other activities?
It depends. If it is camp, for example, then the court will ordinarily order the parents to contribute toward the expense in proportion to his/her incomes. The parents may agree to pay a percentage toward activities in proportion to his/her respective income.
If mom lives in one state but dad lives in another state, what state calculates support?
Generally, the state where the child lives (i.e., the child's "home state") is the state that establishes the child support award. Pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), every state must defer to child support orders entered by the state courts of the child's home state.
Are there different laws per state?
Yes, each state has its own laws regarding child support.
What if the parent doesn't pay?
The obligee parent (the parent due to receive the support) has several remedies. If he or she cannot resolve the issue directly with the other parent, then the obligee parent may file an application to enforce the other parent's child support obligation. If the child support obligation is paid through probation, then probation will utilize its enforcement mechanisms to compel the parent to pay support. These enforcement mechanisms may include, but are not limited to, incarceration, suspension of driver's license, community service and monetary sanctions.
What is the best piece of advice you would give a parent unfamiliar with child support procedures?
Consult with an attorney specializing in family law. Often, parents are reluctant to spend the money to consult with an attorney who specializes in family law. It ends up costing him or her more time and money to navigate the legal system on his or her own.
Do you need help navigating the single parent waters? Check out our Single Parenting page.