Child support is a monthly monetary payment from one parent to the other parent of a child to help pay for expenses of the child. In Mississippi, child support is established in one of two ways, administratively through the State, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), or through a case in court. If support is set up through the State of Mississippi or through a court action for support filed by MDHS, custody will not be part of the process. Child support must be addressed in divorce and custody actions.
Child support financially affects both parents—the paying and receiving parent. It is important to gain an understanding of child support obligations. By understanding the child support requirements, including the required calculation of child support, you can put yourself in the best position to achieve a fair child support amount.
Many clients are confused before they come into the office regarding the difference between an administrative case with MDHS and a custody case. Any parent can ask for DNA testing and to establish a child support order through the State of Mississippi. This is known as an “administrative” or “state” case. This is not an actual custody case, and does not establish any child custody. If a party is determined to be the father of the minor child, the administrative case will establish paternity and establish child support; however, it will not provide for custody or visitation arrangements.
Once the father is verified, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) will request documents from the non-custodial parent concerning finances, including wages, taxes, insurance, etc. If the parent does not provide paperwork there is the possibility that MDHS will utilize income information obtained from the Mississippi Department of Revenue. Similarly, MDHS may utilize minimum wage to determine the child support obligation if the noncustodial parent is not working. After receiving income information, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) will calculate the child support payment required by Mississippi law. Additionally, MDHS generally requires that the parent be responsible for court fees, including the court filing fee, cost of paternity test, and back child support for up to one year
A court case for custody will address both the issues of child custody and visitation and child support. If paternity is an issue it will also be addressed in the child custody case. A custody case addresses all off the issues, whereas the child support case only addresses paternity and support of the minor child.
Mississippi, like many other states, has privatized the collection of child support by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) by utilizing YoungWilliams. YoungWilliams is a private company that handles child support cases for MDHS. Though MDHS continues to have child support attorneys on staff, most MDHS child support cases are handled by YoungWilliams. YouthWilliams provides services that MDHS previously handled, including establishing paternity and financial and medical support for Mississippi children. Additionally, it files court actions to enforce financial and medical support, and reviews and adjusts court orders.
In Mississippi child support is based upon a parents “adjusted gross income,” which is the gross income minus mandatory deductions. The “adjusted gross income” is multiplied by the following percentage:
The court can also consider other factors in determining child support.
In addition to taking into consideration the percentages required under the child support guidelines, the judge can take into consideration the following additional factors in making a child support determination as follows:
In Mississippi, the age of majority is twenty-one (21) years. The obligation to pay child support ends when the child turns 21. Child support may end prior to the age of twenty-one (21) if the child gets married, enlists in the military on a full-time basis, is emancipated, or is convicted of a felony and sentenced to incarceration for a minimum of two (2) years.
A judge may change the amount of child support payments if the party requesting the change can show a “material change in circumstances” since the entry of the last child support order. In determining whether a material change has occurred, chancery courts may consider the following: (1) the increased needs caused by advanced age and maturity of the children, (2) increase in expenses, (3) inflation, (4) the relative financial condition and earning capacity of the parties, (5) the health and special medical needs of the child, both physical and psychological, (6) the health and special medical needs of the parents, both physical and psychological, (7) the necessary living expenses of the [paying party], (8) the estimated amount of income taxes that the respective parties must pay on the incomes, (9) the free use of residence, furnishings, and automobile, and (10) such other facts and circumstances that bear on the support as shown by the evidence. The paying party can only reduce child support by demonstrating involuntary loss of a job or decreased income.
Not necessarily. Joint physical custody does not mean no child support payments. Some parents automatically assume that if they share joint physical custody that there will be no child support payment; however, this is not necessarily true. The court may deem that it is in the best interest of the child for the parent that is the higher earner to be responsible for the payment of child support to the lower income parent. Some courts only zero out child support if both parents make the same income.
The law provides factors that help determine child support. Some of these factors, such as mandatory deductions, are straightforward. However, some of the factors are not as simple. Income, for example, can be disputed during a case. Income includes income from various sources, including your regular wages, overtime wages, bonuses, disability payments to a parent, and military benefits. A common area of dispute as to income includes overtime wages and bonuses.
Another common topic in child support cases is the dependency exemption for both Federal and State taxes. Child support does not count as income. It is not taxable. It is not tax-deductible. Parents, however, often seek to be able to claim the child on their taxes for the dependency exemption in order to lower tax liability.
Once the child support order has been established, whether temporary or final, whether through Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) or the court system, the child support needs to be paid. Child support may be paid through age withholding, whereby the employer withholds wages of the employee and directs the withholding to Mississippi Central Registry. If someone does not work a standard job, then the order may require that the parent make payment of child support to the Mississippi Central Registry. If the custodial parent is receiving food stamps or other welfare benefit, Mississippi will require that child support payments be made through the Mississippi Central Registry. If a case is resolved amicably through settlement, parents also have the option of agreeing to direct payment from one parent to the other.
Parents often state that the child support is not going to the child(ren). Child support is for the use of all expenses for the child, including housing, utilities, and transportation. There is no requirement for the parent to provide the funds paid as child support directly to the child, even once the minor becomes a teenager that is capable of managing money. Unless the basic necessities are not being provided for the child, it is unlikely that a court will make a finding that the child support is being misused.
While child support law is important, a mother and father should remember that each has a moral responsibility to their child. Given that both mother and father were involved in the creation of the child, both parents, even if apart, must actively participate in the support and care of the minor child. Child support is for the necessities—food, housing, clothes, etc. Child custody orders, however, often go beyond child support. Child support orders may include payment for private school expenses, school supplies and fees, extracurricular expenses, daycare fees, college tuition and expenses, etc. Mississippi’s child support calculations do not take into account all of the additional expenses of rearing a child.
In Mississippi child support obligations terminate at age twenty-one (21) years. However, if a party is obligated to make payment of college expenses by court order, though college expenses are not referenced as child support, the parent will be required to follow through with the court ordered expenses even after the child attains twenty-one years of age. It is important that parents have a well-drafted court order which clearly states the support obligations of each parent.
Most court cases, whether a divorce case or case for custody, are going to address custody, visitation, and child support. Representation by an attorney allows you to know your rights, and to ensure that you are properly represented before the court. Knowing your rights and responsibilities under Mississippi law will reduce contention between the parties, and can limit future litigation.
Please review the other question and answer (Q&A) sections available on our website. A skilled attorney, like Evans Law Firm, PLLC, can assist you in navigating your child support obligation. It is important to address your child support matter, particularly if you are behind on your child support.
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