Why do I have to pay child support if I can’t see my kids?

By Jennifer M. Paine

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell, P.C., Detroit office

Note: This is Part 2 of a four-part series on child support. Click here to read Part 1.

Enter the Child Support Guidelines

To alleviate the federal welfare program, Congress enacted three Acts between 1984 and 1996 to change this amorphous landscape completely.

Between 1970 and 1984, the federal government required states receiving appropriations under the program Aid for Dependent Child (AFDC) to establish child support enforcement agencies. These requirements became part of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, and were informally referred to as “IV-D” agencies.  The agencies were to enforce child support orders. However, the federal government left the details to the states.


In 1984, Congress passed the Child Support Enforcement Amendments (CESA) to require states receiving AFDC funds to enact support uniform laws. Most notably, the federal government required states to enact laws to withhold support from paychecks, to impose liens against property for support arrears, to deduct the amount of unpaid support from income tax returns, and to provide IV-D agency services to all families, not just those receiving AFDC assistance.

The CESA also established a national advisory panel on child support guidelines. The panel became a part of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. With the panel’s assistance, states were to establish numeric guidelines, also known as “child support formulas,” to calculate child support. The guidelines were to be advisory only.

By 1988, the guidelines garnered favor, particularly because they were predictable. Therefore, Congress passed the Family Support Act. The FSA required states to make the guidelines presumptive, not advisory. That is, the guidelines-recommended amount should be presumed the amount of child support to order, unless the payor and/or the payee establish that the amount is “unjust or inappropriate.”

Between 1988 and 1996, the government focused on child support determination. The new laws, while replacing an amorphous child support scheme, did not go far enough. In particular, children whose parents were never married (paternity cases) did not reap any benefit if their fathers were never found, and the states had not given their IV-D agencies enough “teeth” to be a threat to defaulting payors.

Then came the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). With this Act, Congress required states receiving federal assistance (now known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, block grants) to adopt tougher penalties. New penalties included driver’s license revocation and liens on occupational licenses. Congress also required states to expand their paternity procedures with the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). Finally, Congress required states to adopt the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) to permit uniform enforcement and uniform treatment (as possible) for chi ld support orders across state lines.

In less than 12 years, the scene changed dramatically. Now, state guidelines must, at a minimum, take into consideration all earnings and income for both parents, be based on specific numeric criteria (such as the number of overnights each has with their child) and provide for the child’s healthcare coverage. What was once an amorphous method for awarding child support is now rigid, predictable and federally guided.

Note: This is Part 2 of a four-part series. Click here to read Part 1.


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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3 comments on “Why do I have to pay child support if I can’t see my kids?

    article clarifications, things to keep in mind and a thank you
    Thank you for commenting on our website and this article. I am very pleased that we have active readers, particularly when all of us have a common goal — to advance fathers’ rights to be in their children’s lives. There are a few things I want you to keep in mind about this article.

    First, it is divided into segements. Please read the entire article, not just one segment, to fully understand it.

    Second, this article gives an overall picture of a national system; not all states participate in it, and, even when they do, each state enacts laws unique to that state to enforce it. For example, Michigan’s child support guidelines are not the same as, say, Florida’s. That is true for nearly all child custody and child support laws. You should always consult a lawyer in your state to learn about the laws applicable to your case in your state. If you case spreads across states, consult lawyers in each state.

    Third, and related to the second point, state laws may suspend child support when visitation is denied — but that does not mean that you do not have to pay child support if you do not have visitation. Child support is not the duty for the right of visitation. That is, you do not pay child support to see your children; you pay child support because they are your children, and you may see them because they are your children. Similarly, you do not lose your visitation rights merely because you have child support arrears. Child support suspension is a remedy for problems with visitation. You will learn more about remedies in segments 3 and 4 of this article.

    Thank you for the active reading. Please check our website regularly for new articles.

    Jennifer M. Paine, J.D.
    Cordell & Cordell, P.C.

    The article stated:
    “Now, state guidelines must, at a minimum, take into consideration all earnings and income for both parents, be based on specific numeric criteria (such as the number of overnights each has with their child) and provide for the child’s healthcare coverage.”

    when, in fact, this is clearly not the case. For example, some states still have very simplistic child support tables that only assess child support percentages against the non-custodial parent’s income. These tables do not consider “all earnings and income for both parents” at all nor are they “based on specific numeric criteria”.

    This is just a cautionary note to fathers who come here and read these articles while operating on the belief that the articles are correct and/or complete.

    One doesn’t have to pay child support if they don’t see their kids. In Ribner v. Ribner, the NJ App. Div. held that judges can suspend or terminate child support (and alimony) based on the facts. In Monmouth County v. G.D.M. the court there held that there is a right to the care, custody & nurture of one’s children, and the reciprocal obligation of emotional and financial support (Citing US Supreme Ct. caselaw, Bowen v. Gilliard). Further, in NY State, there is a specific statute allowing for suspension or termination of child support for severe parenting time interference, Domestic Relations Law, DRL Section 241, and supporting caselaw (e.g., Rubino v. Morgan, Kershaw v. Kershaw, et al.).

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