What is child support in Indiana?
Child support is the ongoing financial support that parents are legally obligated to provide for their children. Both parents are required to provide support, but the "noncustodial parent" (the parent who does not live with the child as often as a custodial parent) is typically responsible for a larger amount and therefore the one that actually makes a payment. If a noncustodial parent doesn’t keep up with a child support obligation, it becomes past due and is known in the law as an “arrearage.”
Some, but not all, child support is collected by the State of Indiana through a federal program known as Title IV-D. For example, families that received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will have their child support collected through the IV-D process.
How is child support calculated in Indiana?
Indiana bases child support on a system of guidelines that uses weekly gross income as its basis. All income is verified via government wage match information, and parents are required to submit worksheets setting forth all their income and expenses.
“Gross weekly income” includes:
- wages, self-employment, rent and royalty income
- commissions and bonuses, and
- other forms of irregular income.
Means-tested public assistance is not considered income for purposes of calculating gross weekly income.
Official online calculators enable parents and officials to determine how much each parent should pay to support a child, and the Indiana Child Support Bureau also offers a number of helpful resources.
If you are a noncustodial parent and you can’t afford to pay your existing child support obligation, you should go to court and ask the judge to modify it before you accrue so great an amount of arrearages that it becomes difficult to repay them. Similarly, if you are a custodial parent and you believe the noncustodial parent is not paying enough, you should also go to court and ask for a modification as soon as possible.
To get a child support order increased or decreased, you must prove two things:
- there has been a substantial and continuing change of circumstances since the last order, and
- the previous order is at least 12 months old, and the amount of support that would be calculated under the current Child Support Guidelines would be at least 20% different from the existing order.
Does child support cover medical expenses?
In Indiana, the cost of a child’s medical care is bundled into the overall child support order. Judges are required to order one or both parents to provide private health care insurance if it’s available at a reasonable cost. “Reasonable cost” is defined no more than 5% of the weekly gross income of the parent who is obligated to pay child support. If parents can’t afford private medical coverage, they are required to pay cash medical support.
If parents are unmarried when their child is born, Indiana law requires judges to order fathers to pay a percentage of the mother’s “costs of confinement” (that is, the reasonable and necessary expenses of the mother’s pregnancy and childbirth). This includes at least 50% of the costs of all prenatal care, delivery, hospitalization, and postnatal care.
In addition to covering the day-to-day living (like food, clothing and housing) and medical expenses of children, Indiana child support can also cover reasonable and necessary expenses for attending private or special schools, institutions of higher learning, and trade, business, or technical schools to meet the child's particular educational needs.
“Optional” expenses such as summer camp, sporting leagues, or scouting activities are not taken into account in the Indiana child support guidelines. Rather, it is up to the parents to reach a mutual agreement about these extracurricular activities. If they can do so, they should each pay their fair share.
Is there a tax exemption for child support payments, or for dependents?
Child support payments are not tax deductible to the payor, but there is an income tax exemption available for having dependents.
State courts do not have the authority to award a tax exemption to one parent or the other. However, they do have the power to require a parent to release the exemption to the other parent. If the noncustodial parent seeks a release, then it must be supported with a showing that it’s in the best interest of the children for the noncustodial parent to have the exemption. To decide this, Indiana courts look at the following factors:
- The value of the exemption at the marginal tax rate of each parent
- The income of each parent
- The age of the children and how long the exemption will be available
- The percentage of the cost of supporting the children borne by each parent
- The financial aid benefit for post-secondary (college) education for the children, and
- The financial burden assumed by each parent under the property settlement in the case.
It’s also important to know that if you’re a noncustodial parent and you would otherwise be entitled to a federal tax refund, you won’t get it if you’re behind on child support. If you owe child support arrearages to the custodial parent, your refund will be “offset” (intercepted) by the IRS and applied to your arrearages. If the child support authorities refer your tax case for offset, you’ll receive a notice in the mail from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The State of Indiana has a similar offset program for state income tax refunds.
When does child support terminate?
In Indiana, the noncustodial parent’s child support obligation automatically ends when a child turns 19. At the age of 19, a child is “emancipated by operation of law” (meaning, no longer entitled to financial support from a parent because of the passage of time) unless the child is incapacitated (meaning, unable to be self-sufficient due to a medically disabling condition), in which case the noncustodial parent must continue to pay support until a court order ends the obligation.
On the other hand, Indiana courts must emancipate children under the age of 19 if they marry, go on active duty status with the U.S. Military, or are no longer under the care or control of a parent or court-authorized agency.
Indiana courts may, but do not have to, terminate a child support obligation if all of the following conditions are true:
- The child is at least 18.
- The child hasn’t attended a secondary school (i.e., a high school) or a postsecondary school (i.e., a college) in the prior four months.
- The child isn’t currently enrolled in a secondary school postsecondary school.
- The child is supporting himself or herself through employment, or has the ability to do so.
Will declaring bankruptcy end my child support obligation?
No. Child support, whether it’s an ongoing obligation or arrearages, can’t be discharged (eliminated) through bankruptcy. For more information on this topic, consult a bankruptcy attorney.
Indiana Rules of Court, Child Support Rules and Guidelines
Judicial Branch of Indiana, Child Support Calculator