In family law, child support or maintenance is a continuing payment that a parent makes for the economic benefit of their child after the end of a marriage or other relationship. The parent, or obligor,  pays child support for the care and support of children from a relationship that has ended – or never happened. Frequently, the obligor is a noncustodial parent while the obligee is normally a custodial parent, caregiver, guardian, or the state.

An Overview of Child Support 

Depending on the circumstances, a custodial parent might pay child support to a non-custodial parent. Normally, one has the same obligation to pay child support regardless of gender. Therefore, a mother is expected to pay support to a father just as a father must pay a mother. In a few areas where joint custody exists, the child is deemed to have two custodial parents and no noncustodial parents. In such situations, the obligor is usually the custodial parent with a larger income. He or she might be expected to pay the obligee, or the other custodial parent. 

In other circumstances, and even a legally mutual home, one parent will be regarded as the non-resident parent for child support and will have to pay the other parent a fraction of his or her earnings. In this case, the resident parent’s earnings or needs are not evaluated. The parents can avoid this type of child support by establishing precisely equivalent contributions.

Child support is founded on the rule that both parents are required to economically take care of their children, even when the children are residing with only one parent. Child support consists of the economic sustenance of children, and not other types of support like emotional, academic, physical care, or religious. 

Who Pays Child Support?

When children reside with both parents, courts seldom – if ever – guide the parents on how to give economic sustenance for their children. However, when the parents are apart, courts frequently instruct one parent to pay the other an established amount as the child’s economic support. In such circumstances, one parent gets child support, and the other is instructed to pay child support. The child support amount might be requested on a case-by-case basis or a formula that assesses the amount the parents should pay to economically care for their children.

Child support might be instructed to be paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent. Likewise, child support might also be instructed to be paid by one parent to another in a joint-custody situation, in which both are custodial parents and split the child-nurturing duties. In a few instances, a sole-custodial parent might even be instructed to pay child support to the noncustodial parent to take care of the children while they are in that parent’s care.

Child support paid by an obligor, or noncustodial parent, does not excuse this individual of the obligation for costs connected with his or her child remaining in his or her home throughout visitation. For instance, if an obligor pays child support to an obligee, this does not indicate that the obligee is accountable for costs like food, shelter, and other necessities directly connected with the child remaining with the obligor.

How Cohabitation Influences Child Support

If the individual you reside with is not your children’s parent, that individual is not obligated to take care of your children. The child support amount your former spouse is instructed to pay normally is not influenced by the fact that you reside with somebody else. However, if your new partner supplies shelter or purchases food, clothing, or other items for you, your former spouse might ask the court to decrease his or her child support duty. 

It will be your former spouse’s duty to prove that your new partner pays most of the children’s costs, making much of your earnings available. If your former spouse can establish this, a court might decide that you have more accessible income to take care of your children and decrease your child support.

In many states, judges have some options to diverge from the support formula if the amount is unfair or unsuitable, based on issues like the custodial parent’s economic resources and child-related costs. If you get child support and reside with your partner or new spouse, think about signing an agreement to keep all your income and property separate. That way, you stand a better chance of retaining your support payments. In a few states, courts have deemed that joint income cannot be regarded in awarding child support when the custodial parent and new partner had such an agreement.

It is Illegal Not to Pay Child Support

If you have custody of your children and reside with somebody else, your former spouse is still expected to take care of the children. Your former spouse might be enraged at your new living arrangement and tempted to avoid paying by resigning from his or her job or declining to seek employment. However, the court will likely arrange payments based on the other parent’s capacity, not a tendency, to work. Declining to take care of your children when you could do so is illegal in every state.

In many states,  individuals who frequently fail to take their child support duties seriously might spend a short time in jail and be refused professional licenses or passports. Every state has laws to seize the earnings of a parent who falls behind in child support. An earnings attachment indicates that an amount to cover the child support is deducted from a paycheck and paid directly to the custodial parent or a government agency. With the assistance of the federal government, states are working together to accumulate child support from parents who relocate to another part of the nation. In a nutshell, paying child support is not just ethically decent, but it can also prevent you from going to prison.

What is the Legal Influence of Cohabitation on Child Support?

The rules regarding cohabitation and child support modification are akin to those regulating the alteration of spousal maintenance awards. Child support orders cannot be altered based on a display of cohabitation. However, if one spouse has been subjected to a considerable change in economic conditions because of cohabitation, it is common to ask the court for an alteration of a child support order. Due to the manner in which child support is computed, however, it is sometimes hard to establish that cohabitation has led to an applicable considerable change.

Child support duties are distributed between parents based on both parents’ shares of their joint monthly net earnings. Therefore, the earnings of a new non-parent spouse or partner, who has no legal obligation to look after or take care of the child whatsoever, are usually not incorporated in child support calculations. Thus, even cohabitation with an extremely affluent new spouse might be inadequate to substantiate a child support modification.

Can a Couple Agree to Alter Child Support Because of Cohabitation?

Because it is decided by statute and based on income, child support cannot be altered through private agreement. Any endeavor to add in a stipulation in a prenuptial or separation agreement restricting the child support payment based on cohabitation is unwise, and will not be enforceable in court.


When deciding to live with your ex or somebody else, child support is not legally affected. The parent who receives the support will continue to do so, and the amount of child support will be based on the economic situation of the paying parent. If two separated people have a private agreement to modify child support, the court cannot legally enforce it. Although this may sound simple enough, it is important to speak with an attorney if you think your situation may qualify for child support modification or other action.