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.
When parents of minor children get divorced, a child support order will be part of their divorce decree. But in other situations (such as when the parents were never married), it's not always necessary for a court to issue a child support order. Virginia's Department of Social Services (DSS) could issue a child support order based on the same guidelines the courts use. You may apply for child support services on the DSS MyChildSupport portal. (But if you currently receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the state usually applies for you.)
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.
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 include a schedule that lists the number of children at the top and amount of income per month down the side at 50-dollar increments 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 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.
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 Parent A earns $1,000 a month and Parent B earns $2,000, for a combined monthly income of $3,000. Under the schedule (effective in July 2022), the total monthly support amount for one child is $498. Parent A would be responsible for one-third of that, or $166. Parent B would be responsible for two-thirds, or $332. If Parent A is the custodial parent (meaning the child lives with that parent), Parent B would pay $332 per month to Parent A.
The guidelines also provide methods of calculating child support in two additional situations: "split custody" and "shared custody." With split custody, parents have more than one child, and each of the parents has custody of at least one child. In shared custody, each parent has the child or children for more than 90 days in the year. (Va. Code § 20-108.2 (2022).)
Virginia law presumed that the amount of support calculated under the guidelines is correct. But judges may order a different amount in some cases, when they believe that applying the guidelines would be unfair to a parent or the child.
Before judges may deviate from the guidelines (either higher or lower), they must consider a list of factors that affect the child's best interests and each parent's ability to pay support:
When judges order an amount of support that deviates from the guidelines, they must state (in the written order) what the amount would have been under the guidelines and the reasons that justify a different amount. (Va. Code § 20-108.1 (2022).)
Unfortunately, some parents attempt to shirk their responsibility for child support by voluntarily decreasing their income. That's not going to fly. When judges believe that parents are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, they may impute income to those parents. In other words, a judge will decide what the parent could be earning, and will base income for child support on that figure. Normally the judge 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 judge isn't likely to impute income to that parent. Under Virginia law, judges may not impute income in the following situations:
Also, when judges are deciding whether to impute income based on unemployment or underemployment, they should consider whether parents have made reasonable decisions like participating in educational or vocational programs that are likely to increase their earning potential in the future. (Va. Code § 20-108.1(B)(3) (2022).)
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, the paying parent's employer deducts the payment from the 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:
Child support recipients may 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.
You have the right to request a review of your support order by the Virginia DSS every three years, as a matter of course. If it's been less than three years since your order was entered or was last reviewed or modified, you may still get a review under the following special circumstances:
If the review shows that your situation warrants a change in the amount of support, the DSS may file a modification request with the court. Parents also have the right to file their own modification petitions. Either way, the judge will order a modification only if it believes that's justified by a change in circumstances. (Va. Code § 20-108 (2022).)
Under Virginia law, the child support obligation ends when a child reaches 18 years of age or is legally emancipated. But a support order must also provide that support will continue for a child over the age of 18 who is:
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:
(Va. Code § 16.1-278.15 (2022).)
If a parent is behind with court-ordered child support payments, in all likelihood the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) will take enforcement actions. The parent who's receiving (or should be receiving) support may also file a formal request (motion) in court for enforcement of the order.
Learn more about enforcement of support orders in Virginia.