This is the definitive guide to child support in Alabama.
In this guide, we’ll cover how child support is calculated, what counts as income, how long child support lasts, enforcement for non-payment, and a slew of other issues.
Let’s get started.
How is child support calculated in Alabama?
Alabama recognizes that both parents have an obligation to support their children, whether the parents are married or not. The amount each parent is obligated to pay is based on a complex formula that uses several factors.
Specifically, Alabama uses the Income Shares Model to determine child support.
Under this model, each parent should contribute the same proportion of their income as if the parents were still living together. Under this scenario, the parent with the higher income will end up paying a larger percentage of support than the parent with lesser income.
The Income Shares model uses a four-step process:
Step 1: Add the incomes of the two parents together to determine the combined total gross income.
Step 2: Apply the total income amount to the Alabama Schedule of Basic Support Guidelines. You will need to match the total income with the number of children to come up with the total child support obligation.
Step 3: Adjust the total child support obligation by adding additional expenses such as extraordinary medical costs, work-related child care expenses, and health insurance.
Step 4: Take the final support obligation calculation and divide it proportionally between the two parents based on their percentage of the income.
If one parent earns 60% of the total gross income, they are responsible for 60% of the total child support payment. The other spouse is responsible for 40%. Allowances are made for the child living with the custodial parent. It is assumed that the custodial parent will spend their percentage of support payments directly on the child.
What income sources of income are counted for purposes of determining child support?
Sources of income that must be included in gross income amounts are clearly defined by Rule 32. Income sources can include:
- Salaries or wages
- Severance pay and pensions
- Gifts and prizes
- Disability insurance and benefits
- Annuities and capital gains
- Social security benefits
- Pre-existing periodic alimony
- Workers’ Compensation Benefits
- Unemployment insurance benefits
The Alabama Child Support Calculator
To assist in determining how much child support you may need to pay, there are several sources that will provide you with an Alabama Child Support Calculator. Go here to plug in numbers that will determine your obligation.
The figures that are determined by using the calculators are for assistance purposes only and not legally binding. Only the court can approve a legally binding child support agreement. These calculators are designed to give you guidelines of what to expect.
An example of how child support works in Alabama
Let’s assume Richard and Teresa are getting a divorce in Alabama. They have one child and childcare expenses are $400 per month. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll also assume that Richard’s employer covers health insurance and that there are no other extraordinary expenses to note.
If Richard makes $4,000 per month and Teresa makes $2,000 per month, together they would earn $6,000 gross each month.
Based on the Basic Child Support Obligations Chart, there would be an obligation of $818 per month. The total child support amount each month would be $1,218 after childcare expenses are added in.
With this figure in hand, the amount each parent must pay is then prorated. Richard’s income is $4,000 per month or 66.6% of the total. Teresa’s amount is $2,000 or 33.3% of the total.
Richard’s total obligation would be $812.40 ($1218 x 66.6%) and Teresa’s obligation would be $405.60.
This does not account for any deviations from the Income Shares model which can be the case.
At what age does child support stop in Alabama?
In most cases, child support ends when a child graduates from high school, reaches the age of 19, or becomes emancipated.
The exception is if the child is attending college and if he or she is not working, the non-custodial parent is still obligated to pay support.
If a child is disabled, the court may also order both parents to continue support when he or she becomes an adult.
Parents can also mutually agree to extend support if they so desire.
Alabama Child Support FAQs
Can the court deviate from the child support guidelines?
Yes. Under Alabama Child Support Rule 32, which sets the basis for the amount of money that is paid for child support in the state, also allows for deviations and exceptions.
These can be enacted by a fair and written agreement between parents that established a different amount which also states the reasons for the deviation. The court can also make the determination to deviate, based on the evidence presented or if the guidelines would be manifestly unjust or inequitable.
Specifically, reasons for deviating from the guidelines may include, but are not limited to:
Shared physical custody or visitation rights providing for periods of physical custody or care of children by the obligor parent substantially in excess of those customarily approved or ordered by the court.
- Extraordinary costs of transportation for purposes of visitation are borne substantially by one parent.
- Shared physical custody or visitation rights with periods of physical custody or care of children substantially in excess of those customarily approved or ordered by the court.
- Expenses of college education incurred prior to a child’s reaching the age of majority.
- Assets of, or unearned income received by or on behalf of, a child or children.
- Other facts or circumstances that the court finds contribute to the best interest of the child or children for whom child support is being determined.
Courts are not required to deviate if one or more of these reasons are present, but they are allowed to use these reasons to consider the matter.
Can the court impute income if a parent quits their job?
Child support is viewed as a top priority by the court and you will still need to pay even if you don’t have a job. If you can’t afford to pay, then support payments will pile up in “arrears” until you have an income and can afford to pay what you owe.
If you lose your job, it does not matter if you were fired, quit or lost it through misconduct.
The court will impute income based on the earning capacity of the parent who owes support, and consistent with the best interests of the children.
When a parent quits a job, the court usually imputes income they had been making and use that amount to calculate child support.
Similarly, if a parent administering child support quits his or her job as a way to try and gain more child support, the court will impute that parent’s income and probably award little or no extra support payments.
Can child support arrears be dropped in Alabama?
In certain cases, child support arrears can be dropped.
If the parent who owes the child support is unemployed, self-employed or is judgment proof, a recipient may choose to sign a release of judgment.
If you are the parent forgiving the support payments, you’ll need to draft a statement to that affect and that you are partially releasing the other parent from their obligation. You can choose to either release a specific amount or as of a particular date.
After the document is drafted, you’ll need to have it signed in front of a Notary Public. Then you will submit the signed, notarized and original copy to the Superior Court Clerk in the county where the child support judgment was entered.
Can child support orders be reviewed and adjusted?
Yes. There is a Review and Adjustment process used to determine if the support amount is still appropriate. The review can also take place to determine if medical support needs to be added to an existing order.
Typically, a review will take place only once every 36 months, unless there is a significant financial windfall or a medical crisis that takes place.
An attorney can submit the appropriate paperwork to the court and schedule a hearing for your case to be heard. In some cases, when both parties agree to a modification, a court hearing won’t be necessary. When there is a disagreement, a judge will render a final decision.
What actions can be taken if I’m having trouble finding a non-custodial parent?
Before child support payments can take place, a noncustodial parent must be located to ensure they will comply with a child support order. Verifying a current address and/or employer is an important part of the child support process.
The noncustodial parent must be served with specific court documents to legally make sure a case can go forward. The Alabama State Department of Human Resources can use a variety of sources to track down the noncustodial parent. These sources can include:
- Internal Revenue Service and State Income Tax records
- Family Assistance and Food Assistance records
- Social Security Administration
- Military records
- Motor vehicle registration and driver license records
- Department of Corrections records
- United States Postal Service
- Current and previous employers
- Quarterly wage and Unemployment Compensation claims data
- Law enforcement agencies, parole and probation offices
The state can also utilize the Federal Parent Locator Service in Washington to aid in location if certain information is known. The best information to provide is a Social Security number, but other information can also prove valuable as well, such as:
- Names and nicknames
- Social Security Number
- Date and place of birth
- Last known home address
- Last known employer
- Relatives’ names and addresses
- Military records
- Assets (home, business, cars, boats, etc.)
- Enforcement of Court Ordered
- Child Support Payments
What is the Alabama Child Support Enforcement Program?
The Alabama Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Division is a joint federal and state effort to help families work through a variety of child support issues with the ultimate goal of helping them achieve self-sufficiency. It is administered by the State of Alabama Department of Human Resources.
People who are currently receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are automatically eligible for assistance in the Child Support Enforcement Program.
Others can apply for assistance by making an appointment with any county Department of Human Resources office in Alabama.
You will need to complete the following forms when you apply:
Depending on your income, you will have to pay a $5 or $25 fee when you apply for services. If you receive Medicaid, you don’t have to pay the fee.
The CSE works with child support attorneys throughout the state to provide legal services. The attorney is required to pursue legal remedies to establish and enforce child support obligations. The attorney will not represent you. They represent the State of Alabama only.
Also, the attorney only deals with child support issues. If you need other legal assistance related to custody, visitation or anything other than support, you will need to seek legal assistance through other resources.
The CSE can provide assistance with the following child support issues:
Child Support Order Establishment. This includes court actions to obtain an order for child support, medical support or possibly retroactive support. Alabama Child Support Guidelines based upon Alabama State Law (Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration) are followed to make fair and consistent support orders.
Separation Cases. When the parents of a child(ren) are married but separated, and the non-custodial parent is not providing support for the child(ren) and has no court order to do so.
Paternity Cases. When paternity is established, orders must also be issued that address support, medical support and an order for Income Withholding.
Acknowledgment of Paternity Cases. Assistance is provided when the mother and the alleged father complete an Acknowledgment of Paternity at the hospital or at the Department of Human Resources Office.
Divorce Cases. When the parents of children are divorced and there is no provision for child support or medical support in the divorce order.
Related: A Guide to Divorce Laws in Alabama
Foster Care Cases. Cases where children are in the custody of or are receiving out-of-home care from a State agency.
CSE will provide collection, distribution and the allocation of child support payments for each of these issues.
Who Can Apply for Assistance
A parent can apply for assistance if they are:
- A custodial parent
- A legal custodian
- A person having care and control, but not legal custody of the child(ren)
- Alleged fathers wanting to establish paternity
- A representative of an agency holding custody of a child by order of the court
- Custodial parents with emancipated children who are owed arrears that accrued under a court order while the children were minors
- Non-custodial parents
Types of Enforcement Actions
There are several things the State of Alabama can do to collect child support, spousal support or medical support payments from an individual. These enforcement actions include:
Income withholding. A court or administrative order can direct the non-custodial parent’s employer to deduct child support from his/her wages.
Reporting to credit bureaus. If the parent’s child support payments are more than $1,000 in arrears, this information is automatically submitted to credit reporting bureaus. Once the balance reaches zero, an addendum is reported to the bureaus as well. However, the debt notice will remain on the parent’s credit file for 7 years.
Passport denial. If the parent’s arrears are greater than $2500, they may be eligible for a federal passport denial, revocation or restriction.
Liens. A legal hold can be placed on a parent’s property so that a child support debt must be paid before the property can be sold or refinanced. This can extend to real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, insurance settlements or other similar assets.
Suspension of licenses. When a parent does not pay, in some cases, their driver’s license, professional, sporting or recreational licenses can be suspended or revoked.
Employing Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM). This identifies accounts in financial institutions that belong to parents who are delinquent in their child support obligations. Once identified, these accounts are subject to liens and levies.
Certifying debts for income tax offsets. If a parent owes back support of at least $150, the state can report the parent to the Internal Revenue Service and the State Department of Revenue. Support payments will then be deducted from federal or state tax refunds.
Possible federal prosecution. It is a federal crime to cross state lines to avoid paying child support. You could be prosecuted under federal law if you violate this statute.
IRS Full Collection. This is a last resort that involves asking the Internal Revenue Service for action to collect back support of at least $750.
What are my rights when I am engaged in child support services through the State of Alabama?
According to the Alabama DHR website, when you receive child support services from the State of Alabama, you have the following rights:
Full and Fair Treatment
You have the right to receive all the services necessary and appropriate in your case to get or collect child support. You have the right to receive those services regardless of your sex, color, race, national origin, or any handicap or disability. Notices are posted in all of our offices telling you what to do if you think you are being treated unfairly.
You have the right to confidential treatment of all the private information that you give us or that we find in our investigation about your case. This means that the agencies involved will not tell any outside agency or individual what we know about you or your family unless we must do so in order to collect child support for your child. Even then, we will tell only what is absolutely necessary in your case.
You have the right to be told about all important actions concerning your case. We will tell you about the progress of your case whenever you ask us. We will also tell you whenever there is going to be a court hearing in your case, and whenever we get an order or determine that we cannot get an order in your case.
If you receive TANF, we will continue to provide child support services when your TANF payments stop, unless you ask us to no longer provide services. We will tell you upon request how much money we have collected in your case and how we have distributed it. Finally, we will tell you when we plan to close your case.
You have the right to participate in any court actions involving your case. You have the right to ask for and participate in the review of your support order.
Your involvement in the Alabama Department of Human Resources Child Support Enforcement Program gives you the right to request a review of any action or inaction by the agency.
You have three options:
- You may request a conference with the child support worker who has been handling your case.
- You may request a review of your case at the county level without a conference with the worker.
- You may request an administrative hearing at the State Office level of Child Support Enforcement.
Your request for any of these three options must be submitted in writing to the County Department of Human Resources that is handling your child support case. An administrative hearing request may be sent to the county office and/or to the State Office of Child Support Enforcement at 50 North Ripley Street, Montgomery, AL 36130.
All programs of the Department of Human Resources are administered in accordance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and all other Federal and State Civil Rights Laws.
Where can I find child support payment information online?
The State of Alabama has published Child Support: A Guide to Services in Alabama that will provide you with a comprehensive overview of the state’s child support services.
You can also visit the State’s Department of Human Resources website, call an automated Hotline at 1-800-284-4347 or if you’re out of state, you can call 1-334-242- 0210.
Where can I find Alabama child support forms?
You can find Alabama child support forms on the Alabama Department of Human Resources website located here.