The issue of child support in Alabama can be contentious, whether as part of a divorce or between unmarried parents. Fortunately, it can be fairly easily resolved because Alabama, as with all states, has a mechanism in place geared to quickly ending the dispute.
Both parents have a continuing legal duty to financially support their children. Alabama has very specific rules for determining the financial responsibilities of single, separated, or divorced parents and for ensuring that parents pay support.
The amount of support depends primarily on the number of children and the combined income of both parents. But other factors may also come into play, as we'll discuss below.
Parents who care for the child most of the time (called the "custodial parents") tend to receive the child support payments, because the law presumes these parents already spend their share of the support obligation directly on the child. So the parents spending less time with the child (called the "noncustodial parents") typically make the payments.
Like all other states in the U.S., Alabama has guidelines that set out the basic rules for calculating child support. Unlike many states, however, Alabama doesn't provide an official, online state child support calculator. But by following the steps outlined below, you can estimate your child support payments. These steps will also help you complete Alabama's child support worksheet (Form CS-42), which will give you the recommended amount of support in your case. (More below on when the judge might order a different amount.)
Alabama's child support guidelines are revised periodically. This article discusses the version of the guidelines that apply in support cases filed on or after May 1, 2022. You can find more information, including links to the full guidelines and worksheets that apply in earlier cases, on the Alabama Courts Child Support Information page.
The first step to estimating child support is to figure out each parent's "adjusted gross income" (AGI). To do that, start with income from all sources and then subtract any deductions that may apply.
For child support purposes, gross income includes (but isn't limited to):
Gross income does not include:
After adding up each parent's monthly gross income, subtract any of the following that each parent receives:
Once you've done that, you're left with each parent's AGI. (Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(B), (C)(1) (2022).)
Because both parents have the obligation to support their children, you need to combine their AGIs to determine child support.
Alabama's guidelines use a schedule of basic child support obligations that lists a dollar amount based on the parents' combined AGI and the number of children being supported. (As with other elements of the guidelines, the numbers in the schedule are subject to change in the future.)
Generally, each parent contributes to child support based on their individual share of the combined AGI. Let's look at an example:
However, that's just the basic amount of support. There's more to consider.
Under the Alabama child support guidelines, the basic amount of support from the schedule must be adjusted for the following:
So, from our example above, say the combined monthly work-related child care costs for both parents is $350, and health coverage is $150. The $685 support figure from the support schedule now seems to have ballooned to $1,185! Not to worry. That's basically done to even out the child care costs and health coverage costs between the parents, as a means of reaching an equitable child support figure for each of them. As you'll see, each parent is then given a credit for the actual amount of those costs that parent pays per month. Here's how it works:
In addition to these adjustments, the judge may order additional child support to cover extraordinary medical, dental, and educational expenses, if the parents agree or the judge finds that it would be in the children's best interests. (Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(B)(7)-(8), (C)(4) (2022).)
Alabama's child support guidelines also take into consideration the need for parents to have enough income to sustain themselves. This is known as the "Self-Support Reserve" (SSR). The child support worksheet explains how to calculate the income available for support after subtracting the SSR. If that figure is less than the parent's adjusted AGI, the recommended child support will be the lower amount. When a parent's income available for support is $50 or less, the minimum child support obligation will generally be $50 a month.
However, the guidelines presume that the child support order should be zero for parents who have no gross income and:
(Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(C)(5)-(6) (2022).)
The guidelines are geared to situations where one parent is the custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent has parenting time (visitation)—such as one night per week, every other weekend, and extended time during school holiday breaks and summer vacation. But other parenting arrangements could call for different calculations of child support.
One such arrangement is known as "split custody," which means that each parent is the custodial parent for at least one of their children. For example, the older child in a two-child family might live primarily with Parent A, while the younger one lives mostly with Parent B. In this scenario, the guidelines provide an alternate method of calculating child support. (Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(B)(10) (2022).)
There are any number of potential parenting time scenarios that don't conform to a typical visitation schedule. The judge will look at the facts of each one to come up with a fair child support figure.
The judge in your case will presume that the amount of child support calculated under the guidelines (the recommended order on line 13 of the worksheet) is the right amount to support your child or children. But sometimes the total amount, or the way that number is divided between the parents, might be unfair. When that's the case, the law allows judges to deviate from the guidelines and order a different amount of support.
Examples of circumstances that might warrant a deviation from the child support guidelines include:
Parents may also agree on an amount of child support that deviates from the guidelines, as long as their written agreement is fair and the judge finds that applying the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in their case. (Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(A)(1) (2022).)
Sometimes parents purposely decrease their income in an effort to reduce or completely avoid paying child support. Not a smart move. If a parent is willfully unemployed or underemployed, a judge may "impute" income when calculating child support. Basically, that means the judge will decide on an amount the parent should be making, based on things like employment history, education, and training. (Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(B)(5) (2022).)
Of course, there could be legitimate reasons that parents earn less than you'd expect. For example, they might become permanently disabled or might need to stay home to care for a physically or mentally disabled child. It's up to the judge to decide if the reasons are valid.
That said, there are other situations when the issue of child support comes up. An obvious example is when unmarried parents have a child. Whatever the marital status of parents, their children are entitled to support.
Outside of the divorce process, you may apply for child support services with the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR). To apply, you'll need to make an appointment with the DHR office in your county. But you can find the application forms and more information on DHR's Child Support Services webpage. (If you receive financial assistance through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF), you'll automatically be referred for DHR services.)
The DHR may also provide assistance with establishing your child's legal paternity under Alabama law.
The standard method of paying child support is through income withholding. (Ala. Code § 30-3-61 (2022).) In other words, if you're responsible for paying support, your employer takes the support amount directly out of your paycheck and sends it to the state. In cases where support withholding isn't in effect, the parent responsible for paying support can send the payments to the Alabama Child Support Payment Center in Montgomery. Payments can also be made through ExpertPay or MoneyGram.
Recipients of child support can have the state mail the support checks or opt for direct deposit.
When parents aren't making support payments on time, the DHR can take a number of steps to enforce child support orders in Alabama, including:
Learn more about the services available through DHR's Child Support Enforcement Division.
If you want to request a change (modification) in an existing child support order, you'll need to show that there's been a change in circumstances that's substantial, isn't temporary, and will affect the amount of support under the guidelines. Some examples of changes that might justify a modification include:
Alabama law presumes that a modification is appropriate if there's more than a 10% difference between the existing support order and the new calculation under the current guidelines. This isn't automatic, however, and even a 10% variation won't justify a change in the support order in every situation. (Ala. Rules Jud. Admin., rule 32(A)(3) (2022).)
Be aware that just because you've asked for a change in child support, there's no guarantee that a judge will grant your request—no matter how much you may think a modification is warranted.
Generally, parents are obligated to support their children only as long as the kids are minors. In Alabama, children are no longer minors when they turn 19 or are legally emancipated before then. (Ala. Code § 26-1-1 (2022).)
Under some circumstances, however, parents might continue to be responsible for the support of a child beyond the age of majority, such as when an adult child is disabled. Also, some parents might agree to pay some form of child support—such as contributing to college expenses—after age 19. But that agreement will only become part of a court order if it's in writing and a judge approves it.
It's important to remember that even after the court ends your child support obligation, you'll still be held accountable for any past due support payments (arrearages).