Understanding the Commonly Used Terms of the Child Support System

If you are the custodial parent or primary care-taker of a minor child, financial child support is the right of that child. The system can be intimidating, but do not let this stop you from taking legal action to ensure financial security and responsibility for the child in your care.

You do not need a high priced attorney to get the child support you need and most states have made the process of requesting financial help very simple. Let's go over a few of the terms that you are likely to come across as you begin your journey.

Custodial Parent or CP: The custodial parent, abbreviated as CP is the primary care taker of the minor child (ren). The child (ren) is typically in the care of the custodial parent for a greater amount of time than the other parent. The custodial parent can the biological mother, father, or in some cases a grandparent or another relative if they have been awarded legal custody of the minor child. The CP often has full residential custody of the child (ren).

Non-Custodial Parent or NCP: The non custodial parent, abbreviated as NCP is the parent who does not full residential custody. Being a NCP does not diminish the capacity, importance or "need" for the parent – it is simply a term to differentiate which parent is the primary care-taker. The NCP can be either the mother or the father.

Residential Custody: The term "residential custody" refers to who the minor child resides with. There are two types of residential customs agreements, sole or full residential custody and joint residential custody. In sole / full residential custody, one parent has "full" residential custody of the child (ren). The parent is the primary care-taker and the NCP typically has a set visit schedule schedule it over nights, weekends or an alternate arrangement. In joint residential custody, the parents share residential custody. This is can be successfully done when the parents live reasonably close to each other or within the same school district.

Legal Custody: Legal customs refer to which parent has the responsibility for making the legal decisions for the minor child (ren). These decisions can include academic and health related decisions. There is joint legal custody and sole or full legal custody. Generally speaking, most courts will establish joint legal personnel without there is reason to give one parent full legal custody over the other. Suitable reasons for granting full legal custody may be incarceration, abuse or mental incapacity. It is important to note that parents can share joint legal custody with one parent having full residential custody.

Birds nest custody: Birds nest custody is the least common of all and refer to a living situation where the child (ren) lives in one central residence, and the parents rotate in and out on a schedule. We've seen a recent example of this in the media, with a popular reality show couple, parents to 8 children. Their children stay in the family home, while the parents maintain individual apartments elsewhere. Each parent spends every other week in the central residence.This is done because logistically and emotionally, up-rooting 8 children can be a painstaking task. Birds nest customs, though uncommon – can be ideal in situations like this or where the child has a physical disability that makes transporting them difficult if not impossible.

I should also highlight that sharing residential custody does not necessarily absolve one parent from providing financial child support to the other parent.

Visitation / Parenting Time: For many decades, the time awarded to the non-custodial parent was referred to as "visitation", however many family court systems have begun using the term "parenting time" in its place. Parenting time is the court ordered time that the non-custodial parent is allotted. Most are familiar with an every other weekend schedule, which is common – but not a set in stone guideline. Court ordered financial support and court ordered parenting time are not intrinsically linked; meaning that even if a non custodial parent has not paid child support he or she is still legally entitled to their parenting time. Child support is not a "payment" required to spend time with children.

Obligee: The person to whom the financial child support obligation is paid to.

Obligor: The person responsible for paying the financial child support obligation to the obligee.

Wage Garnishment or Wage Assignment: Wage garnishment or assignment refers to what happens when there is a legal court order for an employer to deduct child support from the obligors salary. Wage garnishment does not happen automatically. After a child support order is established, the court system will usually allow the paying parent the opportunity to voluntarily pay on time according to the payment schedule. However, when the obligor fails to pay or shows a consistent history of non or under payment, the obligee has the right to request that the wages of the other parent be garnished. You must request wage assignment through the courts. After the wage assignment motion has been granted, it will follow the obligor for the life of the child support order. No matter where they work or where they go – as long as they are working legally, their wages will be garnished.

These are just a few of the most commonly used terms in the family court and child support system.


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