Child support basics for Missouri parents

For parents who are in the process of separating there are likely many questions regarding child custody and support. Decisions related to child support are some of the most difficult, but the parents must keep in mind that child support determinations are guided by what is in the best interests of their child.

Often the first necessary step in the child support process is to establish paternity. In many cases, a presumed father will sign a form at the hospital when the baby is born. This may be helpful in a paternity case, but usually the court will order DNA testing in the case of unmarried parents. Parents married at the time their children were born will generally not have to complete such testing.

Once the court determines the paternity of the child, then it decides issues of custody and child support. The non-custodial parent will need to pay child support on a regular basis to help pay for the costs of raising his or her child. In the past, fathers mostly paid child support following a divorce. This has started to change as women often earn more than their husbands do. In some joint custody scenarios - when each parent has approximate equal time with the child - one parent may still owe support when their incomes vary greatly.

Form 14 worksheet

The state of Missouri uses a worksheet to determine the presumed amount of child support. While a worksheet or guidelines approach may seem simple, it is not always easy to determine the income of each parent. For a small business owner, it could be hard to pin down his or her actual salary, because the owner might write off purchases in lieu of paying himself or herself a salary.

In some cases, the awarded child support amount will differ from the guidelines. One example is when the court finds that one of the parents is underemployed. This can happen if one parent has an advanced degree, but chooses not to work in his or her field. A family law attorney can provide assistance in these more complicated child support cases.

A child support order is included in a paternity or divorce final judgment. A parent generally must pay child support until the child turns 18, enters active military duty or becomes self-supporting. In some cases, such as when a child attends college, a parent's child support obligation may extend to age 21.

After separating, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney. If you were married or unmarried and living together raising a child or children together, child custody and support are important issues that you will need to work out. Negotiations or mediation may resolve some conflicts, but in cases where an ex-spouse tried to hide income it may be necessary to take your case to trial.