Ask A Lawyer: When Does Child Support Officially Begin?

Question: I need to know when child support officially begins. Is it at the point the divorce is filed, on the date I was served?  How should I begin documenting this even if I don’t have any kind of order that says I need to pay this or that amount?

The legal obligation to pay a specific amount of child support to the other parent requires a court or state agency administrative order which will either specify the start date or reserve the issue of any retroactive application.  Depending upon whether the child support is part of a divorce, separation, paternity, or other family litigation may affect when the child support will be effective and how far back any retroactive support may be imposed.  Possible effective dates may be the date of filing, the date of service, the date of separation, or the date of birth of the child, depending upon the type of case and laws of your state.

Apart from an order to pay a specific amount of child support, parents have a general legal obligation to support their children.  If you are providing support on an informal basis (not ordered by an agency or court), a record of your efforts to provide support is important to negate later claims of failure to support your child as a basis for a custody determination or retroactive support award.

For any support payments, you should pay by check or money order and note the purpose of the payment on your check or money order receipt to make clear that the payment was for support and not to repay a debt or a gift.   Court or administrative orders that require payment through the court or a state agency provide a record of payments which is presumed correct.  If possible, obtain a receipt or acknowledgment from the other parent for cash payments or provision of clothes, food, or other necessities.  An email exchange confirming the support may be sufficient.  The exact nature of the records you should maintain will vary based upon the support obligation involved and the laws of your state.

You should consult a qualified domestic relations law firm in your state, such as Cordell & Cordell, to review your situation and advise as to how best to handle your situation.



Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.


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