Child Support Laws in Virginia

Find out how to calculate child support in Virginia and how a support award can be modified or terminated.

Updated by , Retired Judge

Both Parents are Responsible for Child Support in Virginia

In Virginia, both parents—whether married to one another or not—are obligated to support their children. Child support payments are based on the combined incomes of both parents. This gives the child (or children) the benefit of what the parents could have provided in a single household.

The state holds each parent responsible for covering a certain percentage of the whole child support amount, which must include health and dental care for the child. Childcare costs incurred due to the custodial parent's employment would also be part of the equation. If you're wondering what your fair share of child support will be, you can estimate it by using a set of guidelines (explained below).

Just because both parents contribute to the financial support of the child, that doesn't mean the parents have to swap checks every month. The law assumes that the custodial parent already covers many of the costs involved in caring for a child. For this reason, the noncustodial parent makes the support payments.

It's not always necessary for a court to issue the child support order. In Virginia, the department of social services could issue a child support order based on the same guidelines the courts use.

Also, you shouldn't need to file an application for child support if you currently receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In that case, Virginia's Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) usually applies for you. Still, you might want to check with your local department of social services to make sure this has happened. Go to the local departments of social services site online to find your closest office.

What Constitutes Income for Child Support?

Income is more than what a parent may earn from a paycheck—it includes salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, and pensions.

It's likely that even an unemployed parent has some income. For child support purposes, income also includes benefits for veterans or payments that come from social security, workers' compensation, disability, and unemployment insurance.

Additionally, income includes what a parent receives for spousal support and rental income, among other things. Even prizes like lottery winnings or awards count toward what a parent could use to provide child support.

Although it might look like income includes every penny a parent might get, there are some exceptions. Public assistance and federal supplemental security income (SSI) do not count for child support. Also, you can exclude any child support already received or earmarked to support another child. For example, if you have a child with a different parent, then that money—whether you receive it or pay it—is excluded. If you pay spousal support, then you can deduct that money as well.

Calculating Child Support Payments With Virginia Guidelines

The guidelines are a formula. To use them, you need to know the number of children to support and the incomes of both parents. If you have children with more than one other parent, then you need to estimate child support from each of the other parents separately. For example, let's say you have three children—one with Parent A and two with Parent B. If you're seeking child support from Parent A, then you count only one child. If you're seeking child support from Parent B, then you count only two children.

Take the number of children and the combined income amount, and then look here at the guidelines. The guidelines look like a schedule, listing the number of children at the top and amount of income per month down the side at 50-dollar increments. So, they go from $350 to $400 to $450 and so on all the way up to $35,000. If your income exceeds $35,000, the guidelines provide additional percentages to be applied to income above that amount. (Note that these amounts are current as of the date of this article. Those amounts are subject to change, as the guidelines are adjusted.)

Chances are, however, that your combined income won't exactly match one of the numbers on the guidelines. It will probably fall somewhere between two of the income numbers listed. By using the child support number immediately above and below your actual income figure, you can reasonably estimate what your child support payment will be. But be aware that the court or state agency isn't going to estimate your child support obligation. It will use a formula to come up with an exact amount.

Paying a Fair Share

As soon as you have an estimate of what your child support will be, that doesn't mean that one parent must pay the whole amount. Remember that each parent pays a fair share. The way the amount is split depends on your custody arrangement. For a "sole custody arrangement", meaning the child lives with one parent all the time, child support is shared based on a proportion of what each parent contributes to combined income.

Using random figures just for the purpose of illustration, let's say the total monthly child support amount owed is $600, based on a combined monthly income of $3,000. Parent A earns $1000 and Parent B earns $2000. So Parent A would be responsible for one-third of the $600 support figure ($200), and Parent B would be responsible for two-thirds ($400). If Parent A is the custodial parent (parent with whom the child resides), Parent A would receive $400 per month from Parent B.

The guidelines also provide methods of calculating child support in two additional situations: "split custody" and "shared custody". Split custody exists when there's more than one child, and each parent has custody of at least one of the children. Shared custody exists when each parent has custody or visitation with a child more than 90 days per year.

Deviating From the Virginia Guidelines

There's a rebuttable presumption that the amount of support provided by the guidelines is correct. But the law allows judges to deviate from the guidelines if they believe that adhering to them in a particular case would be unfair to a parent or the child.

For a court to order a different amount from the guidelines (either higher or lower), it will have to consider the following factors:

  • support for other family members
  • custody arrangements of the children, including the cost of visitation
  • imputed income to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed
  • debts incurred for the child's benefit
  • life insurance, education expenses, or other court-ordered payments
  • extraordinary capital gains such as from the sale of the marital home
  • any special needs of a child resulting from any physical, emotional, or medical condition
  • a child's independent financial resources
  • the child's standard of living during the marriage
  • the parents' earning capacity, debts, financial resources, and special needs
  • the earning potential of marital property
  • tax consequences
  • any written agreement about child support, and
  • any other factors concerning fairness.

When judges deviate from the guidelines, they must state in writing the amount of support that would have been required under the guidelines, and justify why the support order varies from the guidelines.

Imputed Income for Child Support

Unfortunately, some parents attempt to shirk their responsibility for child support by voluntarily decreasing their income. That's not going to fly. If a court believes that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed, it can impute income to that parent. In other words, the court will calculate what the parent could be earning, and base income for child support on that figure. Normally the court will look at the parent's work history, prior earnings, education level, and the availability of jobs in the region.

There may be circumstances where a parent's decreased income is based on a legitimate reason. For example, if a parent becomes permanently disabled, a court isn't likely to impute income to that parent.

How Is Child Support Paid?

In the past, having one parent pay child support directly to the other parent was causing major headaches, due to late or missed payments. So today child support payments are usually made through income withholding. In other words, your employer deducts the payment from your paycheck, and sends it to the appropriate state agency.

However, there may be circumstances that don't lend themselves to income withholding, often in cases where a parent is self-employed. In those situations, the state offers a number of payment options:

  • online, by using the MyChildSupport portal on the Virginia Department of Social Services website
  • at kiosks located in the lobbies of the child support offices and selected courts
  • using the Touchpay Payment Portal
  • IVR (Interactive Voice Response) System for credit or debit cards, or
  • by mail to the office of the Treasurer of Virginia.

Child support recipients can normally opt to receive support by direct deposit into a bank account, or receipt of an EPPI card (similar to an ATM or debit card), or have the state mail a check.

Modification of a Child Support Order

You have the right to request a review of your support order every three years, as a matter of course. If it's been less than three years since your order was reviewed, you must have certain special circumstances for an order to be modified. As of the date this article was written, they are:

  • a 25% increase or decrease in health care coverage
  • a 25% increase or decrease in work-related day care expenses
  • a 25% increase or decrease in a parent's income
  • a child needs to be added or taken off of the order
  • the existing child support order doesn't include an unreimbursed medical/dental provision
  • a child is no longer eligible to receive continued current support due to a physical change in custody or the child's emancipation. (The order stays in effect as to any other children it applies to.), or
  • either parent is a Reservist or National Guard personnel experiencing a change of income due to recall to active duty.

Termination of Child Support

Under Virginia law, the child support obligation ends when a child reaches 18 years of age. But a support order must also provide that support will continue for a child over the age of 18 who is:

  • a full-time high school student
  • not self-supporting, and
  • living in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support.

Under those circumstances, support will continue until the child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first.

The court may also order that support be paid or continue for any child over the age of 18 who meets the following requirements:

  • the child is severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled, and such disability existed prior to the child reaching the age of 18 (or the age of 19, as per the previous paragraph)
  • the child is unable to live independently and support himself, and
  • the child resides in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support.

Enforcement of Virginia Child Support Order

If a parent is delinquent in paying child support, in all likelihood the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) will undertake enforcement of the order. It's also possible for the parent to file a motion (legal paperwork) in Family Court to compel compliance and seek remedies, such as contempt of court.

For more information on enforcement of support orders, take a look at the article Child Support Enforcement in Virginia.

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