Child support is one of the key issues requiring your attention if you get a divorce and have minor children in Connecticut. Here are several important things to know that will help you in this process.
- Who Must Pay Child Support in Connecticut?
- How is Child Support Determined in Connecticut?
- Which Agency Handles Child Support in Connecticut?
- How Do I Ask for Child Support?
- Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
- Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
- Establishing Parentage
- Enforcing Child Support Orders
- Modifying Child Support Payments
- Child Support and Taxes
- When Does Child Support End in Connecticut?
Who Must Pay Child Support in Connecticut?
Child support is paid by the noncustodial parent and received by the custodial parent.
The noncustodial parent is the individual with the fewest contact hours with the child. The custodial parent has the most contact hours with the child and is the parent that the child lives with most of the time.
Connecticut courts assume that the custodial parent pays an equal share of child support, but that money is spent through everyday activities on the child.
Both parents must financially support their children, even if the parent and child live in different households, the parents were not married to each other when the child was born, and either parent remarries. Support must continue from the parent who does not provide the child’s primary residence even when they live or work in another state.
How is Child Support Determined in Connecticut?
The state has established Connecticut Child Support Guidelines to determine how child support is enacted uniformly.
These guidelines are based on both parents’ combined net income, which is defined as gross income minus allowable deductions.
Gross income includes most earned or unearned income such as wages, commissions, self-employment income, bonuses, dividend or interest income, or rent. Other forms of gross income include workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance benefits and pension or retirement benefits.
It doesn’t include child support a parent receives for children from other relationships, public assistance, or Supplemental Security Income.
After adding up gross income, you can deduct specific expenses to get your net income.
- income tax payments
- medical, hospital, or dental insurance premiums for you and your legal dependents
- premiums for court-ordered life insurance held for the child’s benefit
- court-ordered disability insurance premiums
- court-ordered alimony or child support you pay for other dependents (not including “arrearages,” which are overdue child support payments)
- mandatory union dues and fees for uniforms and tools (to the extent that your employer deducts these items)
- social security tax payments
- mandatory retirement contributions, and
- Medicare tax payments
If you have children from other relationships currently living with you, you can also deduct an amount for their support.
Courts use net incomes, along with the applicable number of children, to get to the Basic Child Support Obligation
The guidelines contain a detailed list of Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations.
For example, suppose the total net weekly income is $1,000, so the basic child support amount for one child would be $229 according to the schedule.
To find each parent’s percentage share of the support amount ($229), you’ll divide each parent’s income by the total combined income. For example, if the noncustodial parent earns $600 a week and the custodial parent earns $400 a week, the noncustodial parent would be responsible for 60% of the $229 support amount (600 divided by 1,000) and the custodial parent for 40% of the $229 support amount (400 divided by 1,000).
Although Worksheet calculations will give you a support amount for each parent, only the noncustodial parent pays the support amount because courts presume that the custodial parent’s share is already going toward the direct costs of raising children.
Therefore, the basic weekly support obligation would be $137.40 (60% of 229).
After determining the basic child support obligation, adjustments are added or subtracted for unreimbursed medical expenses, necessary childcare, and payment of support arrearages. These items are pro-rated based on the parent’s net disposable incomes.
Courts also have the discretion to deviate and order an amount different from the guideline amount.
For example, a court might find that a deviation is fair if a child has extraordinary expenses related to education, special needs, or medical needs, or if one of the parents has extraordinary visitation expenses or unreimbursed medical, disability, or employment-related expenses.
Courts also consider whether a parent or child has substantial assets and resources available in addition to income. How parents are dividing their assets if they are currently going through a divorce can also be a factor. In addition, the needs of a parent’s other dependents, extreme differences between parents’ incomes, or a shared physical custody situation may provide additional reasons for a deviation.
A deviation may also be in order if the total child support award is more than 55% of the parent’s net income obligated to pay support.
In a shared physical custody situation where each parent spends substantially more time with a child than a standard visitation schedule, a court sometimes reduces the noncustodial parent’s payment.
“Split custody” means that each parent has primary custody of at least one child. In this arrangement, parents must calculate each parent’s support obligation on separate Worksheets. After subtracting the lower obligation from the higher obligation, the parent with the higher obligation pays the difference to the other parent.
Some parents avoid their child support obligation by quitting a job or failing to conduct an adequate job search. When this happens, the court has the option to impute or attribute income.
If a court finds either parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it may estimate the parent’s potential earning capacity (what the parent could earn in light of factors such as work history, training, education, and available jobs in the area) and calculate child support based on that earning capacity, instead of the income of a lower-paying job.
The court will also enter a medical insurance order for the minor children if it is available through an employer for a reasonable cost. The court may also order one or both parties to apply for and maintain medical coverage through the HUSKY PLAN. State guidelines also provide for the allocation of unreimbursed medical costs between the parties.
The State Disbursement Unit (SDU) is responsible for all functions associated with processing the income withholding payment paid for child support orders. In general, you can expect that the SDU will:
- Deposit all payments collected according to an income withholding within 24 hours
- Distribute all payments collected following an income withholding within two business days
- Allocate payments in proportion to support orders when there are two or more income-withholding orders levied against an individual.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Child Support
Which Agency Handles Child Support in Connecticut?
The Connecticut Department of Social Services, Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) handles child support matters throughout the state.
Specifically, it provides the following services:
- Establish legal parentage of children
- Locate non-custodial parents
- Establish monetary and medical support orders obligating parents to support their children
- Assist parents in addressing any needs or issues they may have via referrals to other agencies and community resources
- Collect and distribute child support payments
- Modify child support orders if appropriate.
- Enforce child support orders and related debt: child support, alimony (if it accompanies a child support order), medical orders, and child care orders.
The Child Support Call Center at 1-800-228- KIDS(5437) is an excellent place to start for information about applying. Helpful information is here or at any Judicial Branch Support Enforcement Services office.
Judicial Branch Support Enforcement Services is responsible for court-based enforcement actions, including contempt applications, and reviewing and modifying financial, medical, and child care orders
Title IV-D of the Federal Social Security Act requires every state to provide child support services. In Connecticut, this program is administrated by OCSS, which has cooperative agreements with other agencies under the Child Support Program’s umbrella agencies:
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which is the legal counsel for the Child Support Program
Support Enforcement Services, Judicial Branch, responsible for court-based enforcement and most modification processes
Family Support Magistrates, Judicial Branch, responsible for adjudicating court cases in the Child Support / IV-D Program
OCSS also oversees a Child Support Payment Information line at 1-888-233-7223. You can call this number to get automated, up-to-date information about your case and access your account 24 hours a day. Staff is available to answer questions M-F, 8 am to 4:30 pm.
You can get information at any statewide OCSS office. You can see a complete list of office locations, communities served, and contact information here.
How Do I Ask for Child Support?
OCSS provides child support services to anyone who needs assistance.
Services include those indicated above but do not include divorce, custody, or visitation actions. Additional information about child support services can be found in “Child Support Services in Connecticut, A Brief Guide.”
Applications for child support services are managed at field offices associated with the city or town where the applicant lives.
You can find a list of those offices here.
You can complete the Application for Services online and email it to the appropriate OCSS or request an appointment via email or telephone to meet with a child support representative. If you meet at an OCSS office, you’ll need to print all required forms and fill them out before your appointment. Applications are also available at all local child support offices.
Families who receive Temporary Family Assistance (TFA) do not need to complete an application because a child support case is automatically generated upon granting cash assistance. The custodial party must cooperate with OCSS by providing any information or documents needed to establish parentage and a child support order. If you receive medical benefits from the State of Connecticut, you may also be entitled to child support services.
Use the following applications when you apply:
Anyone applying for child support services must complete and submit an Application for IV-D Services.
If you already have a child support court order, you must also complete and submit an Arrearage Payment Affidavit.
For a noncustodial parent application, use the Application for Noncustodial Parent.
Does Alimony Affect Child Support?
The short answer is yes, but several factors are taken into account. The court will examine whether alimony has been ordered, what other benefits the ex-spouse receives, the length of the marriage, and several other factors that will impact the child support formula.
Initially, there still must be a finding that one party has a need and that the other party can pay. Once a finding has been made, the Court can plug in the relevant criteria and apply the child support formula.
Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Alimony
Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?
As part of the child support order, the court will determine which parent must provide medical and dental coverage and which parent must contribute a monthly payment toward the premium.
If both parents have health insurance coverage available, and if the coverage is accessible to the child, the court can order the parent with the better health insurance coverage to provide it for the child and order the other parent to contribute a monthly cash payment toward the premium.
A parent’s monthly payment toward the premium is usually limited to 25% percent of that parent’s basic child support obligation. However, the court may decide it is in the child’s best interests to order a parent to provide coverage that exceeds that percentage.
In some cases, the court may excuse one parent from providing health insurance coverage or a monthly payment toward the premium. But the court will always require both parents to contribute a proportionate share of uninsured medical expense costs.
The Connecticut Parentage Act (CPA) ensures that all Connecticut children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the marital status, gender, or sexual orientation of their parents, will have equal access to the security of a legal parent-child relationship.
Establishing parentage gives a child a legal parent and establishes rights and responsibilities to provide care for a child.
Parentage can be established in several ways.
The Acknowledgment of Parentage form is a sworn statement voluntarily completed by the child’s parents. The acknowledgment affirms that the other person is the child’s parent and has the same force and effect as a court-ordered judgment of parentage.
The form can be completed at the hospital when the child is born or at a later day at any office of the Department of Social Services or the Department of Public Health.
After the Acknowledgement of Parentage form is completed and processed, the other parent’s name will be included on the child’s birth certificate. This normally takes four to six weeks.
The Acknowledgement of Parentage form is not available online.
OCSS does provide detailed brochures to help explain the process further. Access them here:
Court Ordered Parentage can establish parentage through a court order. Court-ordered parentage becomes necessary when either parent is unwilling to sign the Acknowledgement of Parentage form.
If parentage is established through a court order, a certified copy of the court order must be submitted to the Department of Public Health.
Genetic testing is another option. OCSS can help schedule a DNA test with or without going to court. Samples taken from the mother, the child, and the possible father are sent to a lab for testing. Contact a local DSS office for more information.
Enforcing Child Support Orders
OCSS has several tools to enforce child support orders. They include:
- Income Withholding. Child support orders may be collected through a court order to deduct money from the noncustodial parent’s income.
- Contempt. The court finds that the noncustodial parent willfully failed to obey the order. A person in contempt may be ordered to pay a lump sum of money. The person also can be sent to jail until a certain sum of money is paid.
- License Suspension. The court finds the noncustodial parent failed to obey the court order and orders their driver’s license, professional, occupational license, or recreational license suspended after 30 days.
- Federal and State Income Tax Offset. Past due child support orders monitored by the state are automatically matched against federal and state income tax returns every year.
- Consumer Credit Reporting. Overdue child support of more than $1000 is automatically reported to the major credit reporting agencies as an overdue debt monthly.
- Liens against Property. Past due child support of more than $500 may be collected through a lien against the noncustodial parent’s real estate or personal property.
Other methods used by the state include:
- offsetting lottery winnings
- seizure of bank accounts
- offsetting federal payments (example: federal contracts)
- denying passport applications.
If the noncustodial parent moves out of state and the Support Enforcement Services Unit is already enforcing your case, the Unit will take steps to collect child support from the out-of-state parent.
Some of the available interstate enforcement tools include direct income withholding, interstate real property liens, seizure of financial assets, and referral to the U.S. Attorney for federal prosecution under the Child Support Recovery Act and Deadbeat Parents
Modifying Child Support Payments
After a court has made an initial child support order, a parent who wants to modify the support order must show a substantial change in circumstances. Justification might be due to one parent getting a much higher paying job or the parents making a permanent change in the number of days per week that they spend with a child.
Courts will generally presume that a modification is appropriate if the difference between an existing award and the amount determined by a new analysis and application of the current guidelines varies by more than 15%. But this is not automatic.
There are three ways to go to court for a hearing to ask a judge or family support magistrate to change your order:
- Ask Support Enforcement Services (SES) to assist you
- Hire an attorney
- Do it yourself by filing a motion for modification and representing yourself in court, known as pro se. Here’s How to File a Modification on your own.
If you ask for the modification, you must attend the court hearing, or the judge or magistrate will not change the order. You may be eligible to participate by phone if you are not living in Connecticut.
If you have a child support case with the state child support program, you can ask SES in writing, phone, or email to review your court order to see if a change may be needed.
You will be asked to complete a written request form which includes providing information about you and the other parent. SES will prepare your forms if your court order is from Connecticut and either parent’s income has changed enough that the support order is at least 15% higher or lower. SES can also assist if there has been a change in either parent’s circumstances, such as the receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD), a change in custody, or a change in incarceration status.
If your hearing is in Family Support Magistrate Court, the best way to understand what will happen at your hearing is to read the Judicial Branch pamphlet, What Happens When You Go To Family Support Magistrate Court.
Child Support and Taxes
Child support payments are neither deductible by the payer nor taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.
Generally, the custodial parent is treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support. However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent.
Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a substantially similar statement.
When Does Child Support End in Connecticut?
Under Connecticut divorce laws, a child support obligation continues typically until a child who has finished high school turns 18 or until a full-time high school student completes twelfth grade or turns 19, whichever occurs first.
A court may also order a parent to contribute to expenses for a child between 18 and 23 who is attending post-secondary school (i.e., college or a similar type of educational program) full-time.
Additional considerations may be given to an impaired or otherwise medically challenged child.