CUSTODY AND CHILD SUPPORT

Custody (of a minor child) can be defined as a parent (or guardian) having a percentage of legal responsibility to care for his/her minor child(ren). As part of a separation, a legal document referred to as a Parenting Plan is developed to determine and allocate what percentage of the responsibility belongs to each parent. Depending on the circumstances of the case, one parent may have sole custody or 100% of the responsibility. Sole custody is becoming increasingly rare and is typically only used in cases where one parent is severely abusive, deceased, incarcerated or chooses to voluntarily give up custody. It is important to note, that the parent with less than 50% of the responsibility is usually still responsible for 50% of the financial responsibility of the child(ren) and will be required to pay child support to Child Support Enforcement. Any and all child support payments should be made to the Division of Child Support Enforcement- not to the other parent.

Typically speaking, each parent is responsible for 50% of the care of each minor child. This 50/50 parenting responsibility is commonly referred to as Shared Parenting. The specifics of the shared parenting are written out in the Parenting Plan and the details are as unique as the individuals involved. Responsibilities are assigned to each parent and can include such details as which days/weeks he/she is responsible for the child(ren), who will carry the health insurance, the school or daycare each child(ren) will attend, extra-curricular activities, etc. 

As most parent knows, it takes a substantial amount of money to provide for a child. The needs are endless and can include things such as food, shoes, clothes, toiletries, school supplies, medical/dental care, daycare, extra-curricular fees, etc. In an effort to divide the financial burden equally among parents, child support is established. The amount each parent is required to pay in child support (if any) can vary greatly and is determined by each parent’s gross income, the percentage of responsibility they have for the child(ren), etc. Child Support is the child’s entitlement and cannot simply be waived at the parent’s discretion.

On a personal note, I have had numerous clients over the years who chose to create a Parenting Plan and determine Child Support on their own or chose to trust an ex and just sign documents presented to them to avoid conflict. While I can appreciate the goodwill involved, this opens the door to errors with unforeseen consequences or just simply being taken advantage of by an ex with bad intentions. It is not uncommon for people in these situations to pay 2 or 3 times as much child support as the law would have required them to pay. My advice is to always run legal and binding agreements (of any kind) by an attorney before you sign. It’s much easier and cheaper to make adjustments beforehand than to attempt to undue previous mistakes.

As always, the Law Office of Pamela J. Helton is here to help guide you and establish  Custody and Child Support Agreements. If you would like more information or would like to consult with an attorney, please feel free to contact us at (352) 243-9991.

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