Child Support in Alabama
Child support is a critical element in promoting the best interests of children after separation or divorce of parents. The payment of child support helps ensure that the basic needs of children are met. This includes expenses like food, clothing, shelter, medical costs and education.
In Alabama, the calculation and collection of child support is governed by the Alabama Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines outline how child support amounts are determined as well as factors that can lead to modification of existing child support orders. Understanding the core aspects of child support in Alabama can help parents navigate this important process.
How Child Support is Calculated in Alabama
There are three main models used to calculate basic child support amounts in Alabama:
Income Shares Model
The income shares model first calculates the combined income of both parents. A percentage of this combined income is considered the basic child support obligation, based on the number of children. This amount is then divided between the parents, usually proportionate to each parent’s income.
Many states, including Alabama, use the income shares model as it accounts for contributions from both parents. It aims to maintain children’s standard of living close to what it would be if parents remained together.
Percentage of Income Model
In the percentage of income model, child support is based on a fixed percentage of the paying parent’s gross income. The percentage amount due increases as the number of children being supported increases.
This model is easy to calculate but fails to account for the income of the recipient parent. It does not guarantee financial stability for the child.
Flat Rate Model
Some states use a flat rate model where child support is a set dollar amount based on the number of children, regardless of parents’ incomes.
The flat rate method rarely factors in the needs and lifestyles of individual families. It tends to be seen as outdated and unfair by child support advocates.
Out of these methods, the income shares approach provides the most equitable way to calculate basic child support amounts in Alabama and most other states.
Factors That Affect Child Support Amounts
While the income shares model gives the starting point, several factors can cause child support amounts to be adjusted up or down:
Higher combined parental income will result in a higher total child support obligation. In Alabama, the basic child support schedule currently caps at a combined parental income of $20,000 per month. Additional amounts may be ordered in high-income cases based on the child’s needs.
Unemployment of a parent can also modify support amounts until income is regained. Promotions, higher paying jobs, or second jobs can increase a parent’s income and their share of child support.
In Alabama, physical custody arrangements directly impact child support amounts. The parent who has primary physical custody of the child will generally be owed child support from the non-custodial parent.
If custody is split 50/50, child support may not be owed by either parent. Or it may involve limited payments to balance financial disparities between households.
A portion of children’s healthcare expenses, including health insurance premiums, may be added to the basic child support obligation. This ensures both parents contribute to healthcare costs.
Uncovered medical bills can also result in adjustments and cost-sharing arrangements between parents.
Number of Children
The child support schedule provides higher percentages of combined income for families with more children.
For example, for a combined $6,000 in monthly parental income, support for one child would be $1,080 per month. For two children, it rises to $1,575 per month total.
Modifying Child Support Orders
Existing child support orders can be modified if certain legal conditions are met:
Significant Changes in Circumstances
A major change in the paying parent’s income by 15% or more, changes in physical custody, or a child aging out of the system can allow for support order adjustments.
Modifications require filing petitions and having evidentiary hearings in court. They are not automatic.
Parents can voluntarily agree to child support changes without court intervention, provided they file the agreement properly with the court. This allows flexibility when both parties are in alignment.
Every 3 Years Review
Alabama allows for a detailed review and adjustment of child support orders every three years under Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration. This allows regular updates for major life changes.
Enforcing Child Support Payments
When non-payment of child support becomes an issue, Alabama uses several enforcement mechanisms:
Court ordered wage garnishments require employers to automatically withhold owed child support amounts from the paying parent’s paychecks. This is one of the most effective methods of collection when there is income.
Tax Refund Intercepts
Past-due support can be taken from a paying parent’s state and federal income tax refunds. The intercepted refund money is applied to child support debts.
Professional licenses and driver’s licenses may be suspended for parents who accrue substantial arrears in child support. This provides motivation to avoid falling behind on payments.
Contempt of Court
The court can issue fines or jail time for paying parents found in contempt of existing child support orders. Contempt charges are punishable up to 20 days in jail in Alabama.
Having strong enforcement measures improves child support payment compliance and promotes engagement from both parents.
Termination of Child Support
Key events that end the obligation to pay child support in Alabama include:
Child Reaching Age of Majority
Child support typically terminates when the child turns 19 years old, the age of majority in Alabama. Exceptions exist for special needs children.
Death of Child
If the supported child dies, the responsibility to continue paying child support ends immediately upon the date of death.
Emancipation of Child
Events like marriage, joining the military, or legal emancipation terminate the parents’ obligation to continue child support. The emancipated minor becomes fully independent at that time.
Navigating child support establishment, modifications, and enforcement can be complex for Alabama families transitioning through separation, divorce or paternity actions. Understanding the core child support guidelines gives parents and guardians a starting point to work through key processes. In the best interest of children, maintaining open communication and upholding financial responsibilities should be priorities for all involved parties. This helps ensure children’s needs are fully met at a foundational level.
1. Does child support typically continue during summers when a child is visiting the non-custodial parent?
No. The amount of time a child spends with each parent does not usually impact regular monthly child support responsibilities. Support continues year-round.
2. Can child support be determined in cases where paternity is uncertain?
Yes, child support can be decided first and procedures to establish paternity can follow after if needed.
3. If neither parent has custody, do they still pay child support?
Yes. Even without custody, both parents typically contribute child support to whoever does have physical custody, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles or foster parents.
4. Does an existing child support order remain the same if you move to a new state?
Usually not. Movements between states normally require initiating new court procedures under the guidelines of your new resident state.
5. Can child support be ordered for college or beyond age 19 in Alabama?
Not usually for college, but exceptions exist in cases of special needs children who require continued care past age 19.