In South Carolina, either parent may request child support, but it’s the obligation of both parents to contribute to that support. A court could order one or both parents to make payments. Additionally, if either or both of the parents is unmarried and under 18 years of age, the Child Support Enforcement Division of the State Department of Social Services can pursue support and maintenance for that child from one or both of the child's maternal and paternal grandparents. (See South Carolina Code § 63-17-350.)
A court determines the amount of child support based on certain guidelines provided for in the law. These guidelines determine payments based on the parents’ gross income. Gross income is all income from any source. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. It’s also money that comes from any rents, dividends, or a trust, among other things.
If you’re unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes, in the form of social security (but not SSI), workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, or veterans’ benefits. Alimony (spousal support) you receive counts too. In some cases, a court could even identify income based on the value of some of your assets.
There are a few benefits you can omit from gross income, such as means-tested public assistance programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), General Assistance, and food stamps. You can also exclude income from other household members.
You should be able to deduct alimony and child support from a previous marriage (if it’s court-ordered). You may even get a break if you’re supporting other natural or adopted children in the home, although not step-children unless you have a court order requiring you to support them.
You can find more information on what you should include in income, and what you can leave out, in the child support guidelines.
If the court believes either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it has the authority to impute income to that parent. What this means is that in calculating child support, the court can base the parent’s support obligation on what that parent should be earning, rather than actual income. That said, there may be legitimate reasons why a parent isn’t earning to potential. For example, perhaps a parent has developed a long-term disability that prevents employment.
Although Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and other means‐tested public assistance benefits are not included in gross income, the court may still impute income to these recipients. However, the court can take into consideration the presence of young children or handicapped children whom the parent must care for, and which would impede the parent’s ability to work.
When determining a parent’s employment potential and probable earnings level, the court will consider the parent’s recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing job opportunities and earning levels in the community.
Under the guidelines, parents pay child support based on their pro rata share of their combined monthly income. Let’s say Parent A and Parent B have two children, and Parent A has primary custody of both of them. Parent A earns $1000 per month, and Parent B earns $4000, making their total combined monthly income $5000. So Parent A’s income equals 20% of that total, and Parent B’s is 80%. Thus, Parent A would be responsible for 20% of the total child support figure, and Parent B would owe 80%.
In the above example, let’s assume hypothetically that total child support due per month under the guidelines is $1000. Parent A’s share would be $200; Parent B’s would be $800. Because the children are living with Parent A, the law presumes that this parent is already spending that $200 on the children. Parent B would therefore be the one making a child support payment each month, of $800.
In addition to the base child support figure, parents are responsible for a child’s medical care. The law directs the court to require health care coverage by one or both parents who can obtain the most comprehensive coverage through an employer or otherwise, at the most reasonable cost. The parents will also contribute to unreimbursed medical expenses, based on their pro rata income. However, the first $250 of these unreimbursed costs (per year, per child) is the responsibility of the parent receiving child support.
The cost of day care a parent incurs due to employment or the search for employment is also added to the basic support obligation. This is to encourage parents to work and generate income for both themselves and their children. However, the day care costs must be reasonable.
You can find the basic table of child support obligations in the child support guidelines. South Carolina provides a number of useful tools to help you estimate your base amount of child support. First take a look at the child support worksheets, which are included in the guidelines. The worksheet you’ll use depends on the type of custody arrangement you have.
In “sole custody” situations, one parent (the custodial parent) has physical custody of the child, and the other parent (the noncustodial parent) exercises visitation (parenting time). Visitation scenarios can differ dramatically, but a typical one is where the noncustodial parent has the child every other weekend, and perhaps sees the child one or two evenings per week. For sole custody, you’d use Worksheet A.
Next you have a “split-custody” arrangement. In this scenario, the parents have two or more children and each parent has physical custody of at least one child. Worksheet B applies here.
A “shared parenting” arrangement exists when each parent has court‐ordered visitation with the children overnight for more than 109 overnights each year, and both parents contribute to the children’s expenses in addition to the payment of child support. Here, you’d use Worksheet C.
Once you’ve tackled the worksheets, you can use a provided calculator to estimate your child support obligation. You can find the calculator here. While this is a useful tool, there’s no guarantee that the number given by this calculator will be what a court orders you to pay. This is because a court can adjust the amount of support either up or down if following the guidelines gives a result that would be unjust to a parent or the child.
There’s a rebuttable presumption that the amount determined by the guidelines is the correct amount needed to support a child. Sometimes, the total amount given by the guidelines, or the way that number is divided, is unfair to a parent or the child. In these circumstances, a court can deviate from the guidelines. (See South Carolina Code § 63-17-470.) Once a parent makes a request for this, a court will review the following factors to decide whether a higher or lower amount would be more just:
Except in limited circumstances, child support is collected through an income withholding. In other words, your employer takes the child support out of your paycheck, and sends it to the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
If, for some reason, the court doesn’t order income withholding in your case, the state offers a number of alternate payment methods, such as:
If you’re receiving child support, you can have the money direct-deposited to your bank account. An alternative would be to obtain a state-issued prepaid debit card, known as the South Carolina Way2Go Card, and have the support payment applied to that card each month.
South Carolina law addresses modification of a child support order in South Carolina Code §63-17-830. Either parent can request a change in an existing child support order (up or down), but in order to succeed you’ll have to show the court there’s been a substantial change in circumstances from when the court issued the current order. A substantial change tends to include life events like losing a job, developing a medical condition or disability that limits your ability to work, a significant increase in income, or the fact that one or more of the children have now begun living with you.
Additionally, either parent has the right to request that the state’s Child Support Services Division review the child support order every three years.
You should realize that just because you request a modification, that doesn't mean it will be granted. The court will decide whether a modification is warranted. In reviewing the request, the court can look at the same factors it considers regarding deviating from the guidelines, as referenced above.
To learn more, you can read and download South Carolina’s modification instructions and forms.
The obligation to provide child support normally will end when a child reaches the age of 18, or until the child is married and becomes self-supporting, whichever comes first. However, child support will continue past 18 if the child is attending high school, but not to exceed high school graduation or the end of the school year after the child reaches the age of 19, whichever is later.
Support may also continue past 18 if there’s a preexisting agreement or a court order to that effect. Additionally, the court can order child support past the age of 18 when the child has physical or mental disabilities, or other exceptional circumstance exist, for as long as the physical or mental disabilities or exceptional circumstances continue. (See South Carolina Code §63-3-530, subsection 17.)
Two things to note regarding termination. First, the fact that child support terminates doesn’t absolve you of your obligation to make up any past due amounts (arrearages). Second, termination doesn’t happen automatically. You have to request a court order to end your obligation.
If a parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, the state has a number of ways to enforce the obligation to pay, including: