Your St. Louis Child Support Case: The Basics

Life as a single parent has had more ups, downs, twists, and turns than an afternoon crawling through City Museum's tangle of mazes. You just got your latest credit card bill - and your heart dropped like it was taking a trip down the museum's 10-story slide. You've tried to make it on your own, but you're going to need some financial help from your not-so-generous ex. This article will give you some helpful general information on the process of requesting and receiving child support, as well as what to do if your ex refuses to make support payments.

How Do I Receive Child Support Payments?

In Missouri, both parents have a legal duty to support their child. The custodial parent fulfills this duty by directly caring and providing for the child. The non-custodial parent fulfills this duty by paying child support -- providing monthly payments to help cover the child's living expenses (food, clothing, education, and medical expenses). This means that the non-custodial parent may be obligated to make child support payments, even if the custodial parent makes enough money to pay for all of the child's expenses without assistance.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, like most other states, Missouri requires parents to support children until the age of 18. However, unlike other states, if a child enrolls in vocational school or college, Missouri may require his or her parents to continue financial support until the child graduates or turns 21 years old (depending on the type of school and the child's course load).

To receive child support payments, you must first have a child support order from the court or the Department of Social Services (Family Support Division). If you have already filed for divorce or legal separation, you may ask the court to order child support as part of the same case. If you are not married to your child's other parent, you first must establish paternity (legal fatherhood) to ensure your child's legal rights, as well as your own rights as a parent. Once paternity is established, either the court or the Family Support Division may order child support.

How Much Child Support Can I Expect?

Determining the amount of child support you may receive can be a confusing and tricky task. Missouri courts use specific guidelines (basically a complex formula), also known as Form 14, to determine a base amount of child support. Form 14 asks parents to provide information, such as:

  • Monthly gross income;
  • Whether or not the parent has primary physical custody of the child;
  • Child care costs; and
  • Health insurance costs.

If the court finds that the Form 14 calculation amount is unfair, it may choose to increase or decrease the final award amount.

To modify the support amount after an order is already in place, the court requires that there be a substantial change in circumstances, which would make it unreasonable to hold one or both parents to the original order. This usually means that there must be at least a twenty percent increase or decrease from the earlier award amount (according to the Form 14 formula).

What If My Ex Refuses to Pay?

If child support payments are not made, the court or the Family Support Division may enforce a support order by using several different methods. Usually, the fastest and most effective means of enforcement is to withhold wages -- once a parent owes the equivalent of one month's support, his or her income may be automatically withheld without any notice. Other enforcement methods include property liens or attachments, as well as civil contempt.

Where Can I Get More Information?

Requesting and receiving child support payments can be a confusing and frustrating process. Learn more about the process by browsing through FindLaw's child support section. Find more personal help by contacting the St. Louis offices of the Family Support Division, or consulting a family law attorney.

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