All states require that parents support their children financially until they reach the age of majority (age eighteen) and in some instances even longer if the child has special needs. Noncustodial parents are typically required to pay child support, whereas custodial parents are presumed to fulfill their financial obligation through their daily care of the child. If parents share physical custody, child support is based on the percentage of time the child lives with each parent and each parent's income in relation to their combined incomes.
The Office of Child Support Enforcement reported that nearly ten million child support orders, involving approximately twenty million children, existed in 1999. Enforcement of child support has become a national concern, and many new enforcement mechanisms exist to compel so-called deadbeat parents to pay child support. Enforcement may include seizure of property and tax refunds, the reporting of nonpayment to credit bureaus, suspension of driver's and professional licenses, and imprisonment, fines, or both. The most widely used and effective enforcement tool is wage withholding by employers, a tool used in 60 percent of such cases.
The receipt of child support has been linked positively to greater attainment of educational goals and reductions in children's behavioral problems. The likelihood that fathers pay child support increases with the amount of contact with the child. This does not mean, however, that more contact causes higher and more stable child support payments. A more likely explanation is that greater parental commitment causes both of these occurrences—regular and higher child support payments as well as higher levels of contact.
See also: DIVORCE; MEDIATION
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