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Understanding Nebraska Child Support
The Basics of Child Support
The primary reason for child support is that you as a parent have legal duties to support your children, including financial support. When you and your spouse are no longer willing or able to divide this responsibility between yourselves, the court can act as an arbiter in determining the appropriate balance of your obligations. This is a necessary part of divorce actions and other matters involving the custody of a minor child.
Child support is intended to cover a wide variety of expenses. They can include the bare necessities, such as clothing, food, and shelter, and can also include extracurricular activities and other less defined costs that are a part of your child’s life.
Often times, the court may order separate provisions to allocate medical expenses and child care costs between you and your spouse. One common arrangement is for one party to bear the first few hundred dollars of out of pocket medical expenses. For example, after first $200, you and your spouse will split the remaining costs. Other provisions such as medical expenses may be allocated according to your share of the base child support.
Another large expense is child care and is often separated from general child support. Depending on the circumstances, this may also be divided based on a straight percentage allocation, or some other arrangement depending on your child and facts of your case.
When calculating the child support, relevant factors are mentioned in Nebraska rules and statutes. Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 42-364 and 42-364.16, which states that child support should be made in the best interests of the children and parents should be financially responsible for ensuring those interests are met according to the needs of the child and the parties. Primarily, the court may consider the earnings capacity of each parent. This does not necessarily mean what you are currently earning, but what you are capable of earning. Therefore, even if you have been unemployed but you have some skills, you may be presumed capable of earning some basic level of income. Similarly, if you voluntarily reduced your income you may be presumed to have your previous, higher level of income for purposes of child support calculation.
In Nebraska, calculation of these responsibilities is primarily determined by using child support calculation software that automatically produces figures based on the information provided. Two of the largest factors that affect child support determinations are a) income and b) how custody has been allocated. For example, if you have custody of your child on a regular basis, you may enjoy a reduction in your child support obligations because you are presumably incurring some portion of the costs of raising the child during your parenting time. A court must have valid reasons if you and your spouse want to depart from these calculations, such as when the circumstances of the parties limits their ability to provide support (e.g. incarceration), or the actual needs of the child are atypical (e.g. extraordinary medical needs). In cases like these, you and your spouse can ask the court to modify the standard calculations.
Enforcement and Oversight of Child Support
The court typically does not track how the child support money is actually used or spent. In most cases, once the money is paid over to your spouse, it is your spouse’s property to be used and disposed of how they see fit. However, when the court is presented with persuasive evidence that the funds are being abused, the court can order the parent to go before the court and explain some accounting for their expenditures. The court can adjust this requirement as necessary to be responsive to the particular needs of a case and ensure that the support is not being abused and the best interests of the child are being met.
If you have been ordered to pay child support but fails to do so, you may be subject to one or more enforcement actions. As in most civil cases, the court may not look into whether the parents are fulfilling their obligations – it is the responsibility of the aggrieved parent to ask the court to take some further action to compel the other parent to comply with the child support order. The most common exception to this is when some type of state or federal aid is being used to support the child or family - in those cases the state itself may monitor and review cases for compliance, and take enforcement actions as necessary.
Enforcement of child support obligations can be accomplished a number of ways, with the two most common being garnishment and a “show cause.” Garnishment essentially means withholding the wages of a person so that a portion can be sent to satisfy his debts before the wage earner is ever able to access or receive their wage. This helps ensure that child support obligations are prioritized and further limits the opportunity for a debtor to simply ignore their obligations. A second common method is to file papers with the court that asks the judge to order the other parent to appear before the court and explain why he has not lived up to his obligations. This type of enforcement is backed by criminal penalties and can lead to an arrest warrant if the he ignores the summons of the court.
When Does Child Support End?
Child support most often ends when the child reaches the age of majority. In Nebraska, this is 19 years of age, after which time the court presumes that the parents are no longer legally responsible for the financial support of their children. This may not hold true in every case, however, due to the individual needs of a child possibly continuing into early adulthood, such as into college years or when the child has special needs.
Legal emancipation is another event that typically terminates child support obligations, as does death of the child. Marriage of the child, remarriage of a parent, and other major life events can also cause the support obligations to be revised. If you believe that the circumstances of the parties have significantly changed since the last time child support was determined, you may be able to ask the court to adjust its calculations and determine a new allocation of child support and other related costs of raising your child.