Family Support

When a couple divorces, the responsibility to provide for the family’s needs still exists. A great gulf often exists between the financial needs, earning capacity, and actual income of the individual spouses. The courts maintain that both parties are entitled to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, or as close to it as possible. Also, the lower-earning spouse often needs time to return to work, or to otherwise become established in post-divorce life. The award of family support, or of spousal support and child support, recognizes this need, and helps the receiving spouse become financially independent. To explore this concept, consider the following family support definition.

Definition of Family Support


  1. A financial support obligation, which combines spousal and child support into one payment, without characterizing how much, is intended as child support, and how much is intended as spousal support. This is often done for tax purposes.

Purpose of Spousal Support

Spousal support, also referred to as alimony, is awarded with the goal of limiting unfair economic hardship by providing a continued income to a non, or lower wage earning spouse. The reasoning behind this is that frequently one spouse stops working, or forgoes a career, to care for the family. This spouse often needs time to get an education, or to develop the necessary job skills to be able to support him or herself. Another purpose may be to help a lower earning spouse maintain the standard of living he or she had during the marriage.

Calculation of Spousal Support

The courts in most jurisdictions have a great deal of discretion in how much alimony should be paid, and for how long. Most states base their guidelines for spousal support orders on the recommendations of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act. This act recommends that courts consider certain factors in making spousal support orders, including:

  1. The age, physical health, emotional state, and financial condition of each spouse
  2. The length of time the recipient would need for training or education to become self-supporting
  3. The length of the marriage
  4. The standard of living enjoyed by the couple during the marriage
  5. The ability of the paying spouse to support the recipient, while still supporting him or herself

Length of Spousal Support Payments

In cases in which spousal support is considered necessary for the receiving spouse to receive an education or training in order to become self sufficient, support payments are often ordered for a specified period of time. In the event the divorce decree or spousal support order does not specify a termination date, the payments must continue until an order to stop is issued by the court. The paying spouse may file a motion with the court to request the cessation of spousal support payments.

In most cases, spousal support ends automatically if the receiving spouse remarries or dies. The paying spouse may request that support be terminated in the event the recipient enters into a committed cohabiting relationship with another partner. Because the courts have wide latitude in ordering spousal support, such a termination may or may not be granted, though the court may order a reduced amount.

Purpose of Child Support

It is generally considered to be in the best interests of children to be financially supported by both parents. The courts also consider it to be good public policy to see that children are cared for and supported by their parents, so they do not become dependent on welfare or other state child and family support services. The responsibility of financially supporting a child remains even if the parent does not have custody or visitation with the child, unless he or she has surrendered parental rights with the consent of both the other parent and the court.

Child support is paid by one parent to the other to help ensure the child is provided with the necessities of life, including shelter, food, clothing, and education, as well as medical care, daycare, and other daily needs. Child support is also intended, to some extent, to ensure the child experiences the standard of living enjoyed prior to the divorce.

Calculation of Child Support

The Federal Child Support Act requires certain child support guidelines be used by every state in determining the amount of child support to be paid. Specific laws governing these calculations vary by state, some giving judges a quite a bit of leeway as long as the general guidelines are adhered to, others requiring exact minimum amounts based on the parents’ respective incomes and expenses be followed.

In order to facilitate calculation of support, both parents are required to complete financial statements, providing specifics of their respective income and expenses. Documentation confirming the information is required to be submitted with the income and expense declarations, such as pay stubs, and verification of extraordinary expenses.

In every state the courts consider certain factors specified by statute. These generally include:

  • The needs of the child
  • The needs and income level of the custodial parent
  • The child’s standard of living prior to the divorce, to the extent feasible
  • The paying parent’s ability to pay

Length of Child Support Payments

A parent is responsible to pay child support until the child reaches the age of majority, which varies by state, from age 16 to 21. While in some states, child support obligations end when the child graduates from high school, in others, the obligation may continue if the child is attending college full time. Other life events may trigger an early termination of child support obligations, including legal emancipation of the child, marriage of the child, and death of the child.

The Institution of Family Support Orders

In some states the courts allow the combination of spousal and child support payments into a single payment referred to as family support. A computer program calculates the amount of both types of support, factoring in the tax consequences of each type to both parents, then provides a single combined payment amount. Spousal support is tax deductible by the paying spouse, and must be claimed as income by the receiving spouse. Child support is not deductible by the paying spouse, and not counted as income for the receiving spouse, generally considered to be “outside” the tax table by the IRS. The purpose of family support is to offer different tax consequences than are realized in separate support payments, with the goal of maximizing the financial benefit for both parties.

When the court orders family support, it does not specify how much of the payment is designated for each type of support, nor will it issue separate orders for spousal and child support. In most states in which family support is recognized, it is a less common option, awarded only when the parties are in mutual agreement. Some states, however, allow an award of family support with no agreement by the parties.

What Happens When Spousal Support Ends

While a separately made spousal support order often includes a termination date, or specifies the conditions which may trigger a termination, even while child support continues, family support orders do not provide a clear cut separation. In the event the receiving spouse remarries, or some other event leads the paying spouse to question whether that portion of their family support payments could be stopped, he or she must apply to the court for a new order. This will require both parties to complete updated financial statements, provide current documentation, and attend a hearing.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Custodial Parent – The parent who spends the majority of time with the children, when the parents have joint custody.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Parental Rights – The legal responsibilities and obligations of a parent to a child, including day-to-day care, protection, education, healthcare, and financial support.