What are the Basics of Child Support in Virginia?

Parents in Virginia not only have an obligation, but a legal duty, to ensure the proper care of their children.

At their most basic level, the child support laws in Virginia are pretty simple. If you are the parent of a child, you have an obligation to take care of that child until they reach adulthood. Even in cases of divorce or separation, this basic fact still stands.

“Support” means at least paying for food, clothing and shelter. But under VA Code 20-108.2, the source for child support laws in Virginia, support can also include medical coverage, dental expenses and even psychological services such as a counselor or therapist.

This article will cover the basics of child support for parents considering whether or not to file in Virginia. For more information on the actual process of filing, check out our other guide on the subject.

How Much Should a Parent Pay in Child Support?

In Virginia, it doesn’t matter whether the non-custodial parent is the mother or the father. If the court grants the request of the custodial parent for support, the non-custodial parent will be expected to pay their fair share.

That fair share will be based not just on the income of the parents, but also on the type of custodial arrangement set up in your case. Sole custody, split custody, and shared custody all call for different payment levels.

The rationale behind the calculation is simple. The child should be able to live as closely as possible to the standard achievable if their parents were still together. Since the incomes would be combined in this case, child support is calculated based on the incomes of both parents and divided by percentages.

In Virginia, the General Assembly has created support guidelines which establish the combined amount to be paid in support. The state has also provided a child support guidelines worksheet to assist with support calculations.

Sole Custody Arrangements

In a sole custody arrangement, which is when the child lives just with one parent all the time, the incomes of both parents will be combined in order to calculate the payment.

The non-custodial parent’s percentage of that combined income (how much they “pay in” to the relationship) is what the court bases their support payment on.

Split and Shared Custody

Split custody means that one child lives with one parent all the time and another child with the other parent. In that case, the calculation is a little more complicated. Ultimately, the parent with the greater income will make the support payment.

When a parent has custody of the child for more than 90 days of the year, the arrangement is called shared custody. In that case, support is determined by the percentage of the time that the parent has custody of the child.

Because child support calculations can be complex, you might want to consult with an expert.

Income Under Child Support Laws in Virginia

An important question in all this would be, “What exactly does the law consider to be income?”

In Virginia, income includes your salary, veterans’ benefits, unemployment compensation, and several other sources of money. It does not include public assistance that you receive or federal supplemental security income. It also does not include money that you receive in support of another child or that you are paying towards that other child’s support. If you remarry, you also do not have to include your new spouse’s income.

Immigration Concerns

What if one of the parents in a custody situation is not a citizen of the United States, or is here illegally?Some might fear that a U.S. court will hold their immigration status against them in a custody or support case. There is no legal presumption that the non-immigrant parent should be awarded custody of the child. 

The court will base custody on the best interests of the child and not on the immigration status of the parent.

However, even if immigration status does not directly affect a custody/support determination, it might have an indirect affect. If a parent cannot maintain a job or transport children to school, healthcare appointments, or other activities, a judge will take that into account in determining what is in the best interest of the child.

On the other hand, undocumented immigrants will still have to pay child support. The obligation to take care of your children does not pass to the state based on immigration status.

Failure to Pay Child Support

Failure of the non-custodial parent to pay their child support can carry heavy penalties – including up to 12 months in jail. After all, payment is a court order, and failure to comply with a court order is punishable as contempt.

Meanwhile, while a non-custodial parent serves a sentence in jail their support requirement doesn’t go away – it still must be paid and interest may accrue on the unpaid support while in jail.

However jail time is typically a last resort because people can’t work while locked up. The Division of Child Support Enforcement (“DCSE”), has lots of tools to help a custodial parent collect the money that they are owed for the support of their children. Not only can DCSE withhold income, it can also:

  • File property liens
  • Report child support debts to credit agencies
  • Suspend drivers’ and other licenses
  • Intercept income tax refunds

Additionally, DCSE can also help recover unpaid child support by directly filing a case against the debtor. They can also ask another state for assistance if the debtor has left Virginia.

What if Child Support Funds Aren’t Used for My Child?

Some non-custodial parents may be concerned that the custodial parent is not using the money that they receive for child support, on behalf of the child. However, their options in such a situation are limited. Not only won’t DCSE investigate how child support funds are used, Virginia law does not require an a parent to account for how child support money is spent.

However, if DCSE becomes aware of suspected child abuse or neglect, they will report it to appropriate area’s social services agency. The local agency then determines what action should be taken.

Individuals who are aware of child abuse or child neglect should report it to the local social services agency or call the Child Abuse Hotline (800) 552-7096.

Conclusion

Remember, the purpose of child support is to maintain the child in the same standard of which she was accustomed during the parents’s relationship. Child Support laws are not intended to punish parents, but rather to provide for the children.

Though support issues can be confusing, the obligation should be taken very seriously.  If you need advice about child support in Virginia, contact an experienced attorney today.

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