Deciding on Child Support: If and When You Should File

All you need to know

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Many single mothers aren't sure whether they should file for child support. In the end, it is a personal decision; however, there are several different factors that should be taken into consideration. Here are five key questions to ask before deciding whether to file for child support.

Are you in need of financial support to adequately provide for your child?

The child support system exists to ensure that children receive the financial support they need throughout their childhoods. If you depend on your ex to help you pay for shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and education, then it makes sense to formalize child support with the state.

Has your child's father already filed for child custody?

If the father has already initiated a child custody case, and you have not yet filed for child custody, then it may be in your best interest to do so now. Many states determine child support and child custody at the same time. Therefore, to avoid having to return to court for another hearing, many single mothers opt to file for child support following the father's request for child custody.

Bear in mind that child support payments do not impact child custody or visitation determinations in most courts. In other words, even when the child's father does not pay child support regularly, the court may still determine that the child is entitled to generous visitation with the other parent.

Are you currently receiving government assistance?

If you are already receiving government assistance and the father's name is on your child's birth certificate, then the government will most likely seek to collect child support, either with or without your consent. From the government's perspective, it's better to collect as much child support as possible from the father right at the beginning than to later support the child through public assistance. If this is the case, you may want to go ahead and file on your own.

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Do you have a good relationship with the child's father?

In some cases, if you have a positive co-parenting relationship, it may not be necessary to formally file for child support. If you are already receiving financial support, you may not even be asking, "Should I file for child support?" 

It is important to remember that adequate support is subjective. If a mother does not believe the support she's receiving meets the child's needs, she should consider initiating a child support action in court. The advantage of having court-ordered child support is that the legal system enforces regular payments. The court will consider the following factors before ordering child support: 

  • The financial resources of the parents
  • The child's needs
  • Other children born to the parents who are also in need of support

Is the father expecting another child with someone else?

Many single moms decide to file for child support when they learn that the father is expecting another child with someone else. This is a practical decision, rather a vindictive one. The reason for filing at this time is because it's reasonable to expect that having another child will financially impact the child's father. As a result, he may not be able to provide the same level of voluntary financial support. 

For more information about child support, refer to the child support guidelines in your state or speak with an attorney.

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