Child support is the ongoing financial support that parents are legally obligated to provide for their children after a divorce or separation. 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 makes a payment. If a noncustodial parent doesn't keep up with a child support obligation, it becomes past due, which courts call an "arrearage."
The State of Indiana collects some, but not all, child support 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. For cases not using the Title IV-D program, the court may require payment through the clerk of the court or issue an income withholding order, which directs the paying parent's employer to deduct child support from the parent's wages and forward it to the court. (Ind. Code Ann. § 31-16-9)
Indiana bases child support on a system of guidelines that uses weekly gross income as its basis. The court verifies all income via government wage match information, and parents are required to submit worksheets setting forth all their income and expenses.
"Gross weekly income" includes:
Means-tested public assistance is not considered income for purposes of calculating gross weekly income.
This official Indiana child support calculator enables parents and officials to determine how much each parent should pay to support a child, and the Indiana Child Support Bureau also offers several helpful resources.
If you are a noncustodial parent and you can't afford to pay your existing child support obligation, you can ask the court to change it. It's common for a paying parent to request a modification after changing or losing jobs, due to severe illness, the birth of another child, or another significant reason.
To request a modification, the paying parent must file a formal request with the court that issued the original order. If the court permits a modification, it's important to understand that the modification is not retroactive, meaning you're responsible for the existing court-ordered support until the judge orders a new amount.
Similarly, if you are a custodial parent and you believe the noncustodial parent is not paying enough, you may 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 either:
In Indiana, the court bundles the cost of a child's medical care 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. The law defines "reasonable cost" as no more than 6% 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 for 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). Reimbursement includes at least 50% of the costs of all prenatal care, delivery, hospitalization, and postnatal care.
Child support covers the day-to-day living (like food, clothing, and housing) and medical expenses of children. Additionally, Indiana child support can also cover reasonable and necessary costs for attending private or special schools, institutions of higher learning, and trade, business, or technical schools to meet the child's particular educational needs.
The Indiana child support guidelines do not take "optional" expenses such as summer camp, sporting leagues, or scouting activities into account. 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.
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 have the power to require a parent to release the exemption to the other parent. (Ind. Code Ann. § 31-16-6-1.5 (c).) 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:
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 can be "offset" (intercepted) by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and applied to your child support 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.
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. The law defines incapacitated as unable to be self-sufficient due to a medically disabling condition. In cases where a child is incapacitated, 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:
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.
The State of Indiana's Child Support Bureau
Indiana Rules of Court, Child Support Rules and Guidelines
Judicial Branch of Indiana, Indiana Child Support Calculators