Child support is an inescapable obligation. Even if you were never married to your co-parent, the law still requires that a parent provide financial support to the other parent for their child, except in unusual circumstances. This is separate from alimony or spousal support. If you have a child, the law requires that you either share custody or pay support, and sometimes both, regardless of whether you are married to the other parent. Once paternity is proven, either by a test, or based upon the birth certificate, a court can make child support orders.
How much child support a person must pay can be arranged privately if the parties are agreeable, or via the courts. Often, depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances, informally negotiated agreements may still need to be approved by the court. Courts tend to award child support based on need and ability to pay, though the later always seems to be much less important.
Can I Just Stop Paying Child Support?
Just stopping regular payments can result in fines, and a whole host of other penalties, even jail. Child support continues to accrue when a person stops paying it, unless a court has approved a petition to modify the child support due to changed circumstances. This means that when a child support payer loses their job, they'll still have to pay child support until the court relieves them of the duty. To stop paying child support, or have the obligation reduced, a person must first seek a modification to the court order.
If there is no court order, and you just stop paying under an informal agreement, the other party can still petition the court. While the court may consider your changed circumstances when issuing an order, it will likely require modification when you are able to resume the agreed upon payments. It can also issue an order requiring you to pay back child support if the court found you were able, or required, to pay when you didn't.
Does Child Support Ever End?
Yes. When a child reaches adulthood, child support can be terminated. However, under some circumstances, courts will order child support to continue after a child reaches 18. Sometimes it's just until the child graduates high school. Other times, it may be due to a disability, special needs, or other extenuating circumstances.
Child support can also be terminated if a child is adopted, such as by a new step-parent, and the payer must terminate their parental rights for the adoption to take place. While terminating parental rights can be done, courts generally avoid doing so except when there is an adoption pending. Courts are particularly sensitive to, and disfavor, attempts to terminate parental rights just to avoid child support obligations.