There’s often a really difficult in between period for moms – between when they formally separate from or break up with their child’s father – and when some of the protections under the law come into effect. For a lot of moms, establishing child support is a big deal, but there’s a period of time before it’s awarded (either by a court order or by an agreement between the parties).
In that time, a lot of moms start to look for child support law lawyers. If their child’s father isn’t initially willing to just agree to pay child support (you might be surprised how often that happens – but, then again, if you’re reading this article, you might not be surprised by that at all), they may feel that they need a little extra help getting support established.
Of course, its often not just a matter of child support; in the case of a divorce, there’s also often spousal support, division of retirement accounts, the sale or refinance of the marital residence, and more. That’s a little bit beyond the scope of this article, today, though.
How do I get child support in place?
There are only two ways to get child support established in Virginia. Either you and your child’s father negotiate an agreement, or you go to court and litigate your case in front of the judge.
In Virginia, child support is established by a formula. The formula is – unlike the spousal support formula – binding on the court, and there are very few deviations.
A number of things go into the formula, including the income of each party (which includes spousal support received) the work related child care expenses incurred by the parties, the amount the parties pay each month for health insurance for the children, the amount paid for support of other children, and the amount of time each year each parent spends with the child.
If it’s a formula, does that mean that it’s easy to get child support established?
Yes… and also no.
Child support is inherently easy, in the sense that if you plug the same numbers into the same formula, it doesn’t matter whether your attorney, his attorney, or the judge calculates child support – you’ll get the same numbers.
What does become complicated is that, in some of the more contested cases, the parties end up litigating custody over a child support dispute. Not following?
Let me explain.
The number of days that each parent has with the child matters. If you have primary physical custody, for example, the non custodial parent (the parent who has the child less), has 89 or fewer days with the child in a calendar year. In a primary physical custodial scenario, the maximum amount of child support allowed under the statute is paid and it doesn’t matter whether the non custodial parent exercises the full 89 days with the child or is a total deadbeat who never sees the child at all.
Shared physical custody, on the other hand, doesn’t work this way.
In a shared physical custody scenario, the non custodial parent has 90 or more days in a calendar year. Shared physical custody doesn’t mean that custody is shared 50/50, but that is often the case – still, it doesn’t have to be. Child support in these cases is established on a sliding scale; the more time the non custodial parent has with the child, the less he pays in support.
Why does a child support issue turn into a custody issue?
If you run a guideline support calculation, and dad is shocked by the number that comes out, it makes sense that he’d start asking questions about alternatives. What can he do to LOWER the amount of child support he pays each month?
Easy – take the child more.
So, what starts out as a debate about child support can wind up as a full fledged custody case.
Aren’t you being really cynical?
Sorry – yes. It’s entirely possible that I’m being cynical. Look, I represent women only, and I have only ever represented women only. I can’t speak to the motivations of men, since I’ve never worked with one in a divorce case.
Sure, it is entirely possible that a custody case that started out as a dispute about child support could wind up being focused on custody because dad wants to see the children more, and that’s the end of it. My experience, though, tells me that, in general, they are shocked at the amount of child support and go to great lengths to avoid paying it.
One of the ways they try to avoid it is by getting more parenting time. This happens even in cases where the dad was pretty uninvolved before the parents split. And, yes, the judge DOES allow this because, in the judge’s view, its important to give dad an opportunity to parent, even if he didn’t take the opportunity previously.
Do I need a child support law lawyer for my Virginia child support case?
Maybe! You’re not required to have a lawyer for a child support case in Virginia; in fact, you’re not required to have a lawyer in any divorce or custody case in the Commonwealth.
The question is – how hard will it be to get support established? And, maybe an equally important question, do you even know what the guidelines would give you? My fear would be that a woman who doesn’t know would risk selling herself short. And, sure, custody, visitation, and child support are always modifiable based on a material change in circumstances, but that just brings you right back to where you are now – needing to either (1) negotiate a new agreement, or (2) litigate the issue. Not ideal, right?
Better to get it right now, if you can!
If you’re not sure of the guidelines (and you should not trust a random internet calculator!!) you should at least talk to a lawyer. If he’s not willing to agree and you risk going to court, you should DEFINITELY talk to a lawyer.
You don’t have to hire a lawyer to talk to one, but it’s definitely advisable that you at least talk to someone about your case and the potential issues involved. Then, you can make a decision one way or the other, but at least you’re making an informed decision.
We can help you there. For more information about custody cases in Virginia or to schedule an appointment with a child support law lawyer, give us a call at 757-425-5200.