As a parent with minor children, getting divorced in Illinois always means dealing with both child custody and child support. Illinois law requires divorcing parents to establish a custody arrangement that serves their children’s “best interests,” and it requires both parents to continue financially supporting their children regardless of their marital status.

Child support is unique from other aspects of the divorce process in that parents do not have much flexibility when it comes to calculating an appropriate child support amount. Whereas parents can work together to develop a mutually-agreeable parenting plan, and whereas alimony calculations can (and should) take into consideration a variety of different factors, child support payments must be calculated in accordance with the Illinois Child Support Guidelines.

But, even though this is the case, parents can often struggle to arrive at an appropriate child support calculation. While the Illinois Child Support Guidelines are intended to be fairly straightforward, there are still some complexities involved (especially for higher-income parents), and there are various issues that can lead to challenges along the way. With this in mind, if you are a parent and you are preparing to go through a divorce in Illinois, here is an introduction to what you need to know about child support:

Q: How is Child Support Calculated in Illinois?

A: In Illinois, child support is calculated using the “income shares” model.

In 2017, Illinois joined the majority of U.S. states in adopting the “income shares” model for calculating divorced parents’ child support payment obligations. As the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services explains:

“This model assumes that child-rearing costs will be shared between parents and assesses a percentage of the non-residential parent’s net income as the support to be paid to the parent or guardian who resides with the child or children. The percentages are based on [the] number of children that are being supported.”

Under the income shares model, both parents’ incomes are relevant to the calculation of child custody. This is a major departure from the prior law in Illinois. The current Illinois Child Support Guidelines consider the parents’ respective income from all sources and then calculate the non-residential parent’s payment obligation based upon a data table that takes into consideration income, child-related expenses, family size, and certain other specifically-enumerated factors.

Q: Do Child Custody Rights Impact Child Support in Illinois?

A: Yes, depending on the circumstances involved, child custody rights can impact parents’ child support obligations.

The parents’ respective child custody rights can influence the calculation of child support in cases of shared parenting. Under Illinois law, “shared parenting” is defined as a custody arrangement in which each parent spends at least 146 nights with his or her children each year. In a shared parenting arrangement, both parents can face additional financial support obligations, and it is especially important for each parent to work closely with his or her divorce lawyer to arrive at an appropriate child support calculation.

Q: Does Child Support Cover All Child-Related Expenses?

A: No, child support does not cover all child-related expenses in Illinois.

Contrary to popular belief, child support does not cover all child-related expenses. For example, one major expense not covered by the Illinois Child Support Guidelines is the cost of higher education. As we discuss below, the obligation to pay child support ends at 18 in most cases, which means that the obligation to pay will typically end either before or while the child is in college.

However, the divorce process can still result in a legal obligation for both parents to contribute to their children’s college tuition and expenses. This is based on a provision of Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/513) which states:

“The court may award sums of money . . . for the educational expenses of any child of the parties. Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, all educational expenses . . . shall be incurred no later than the student’s 23rd birthday, except for good cause shown, but in no event later than the child’s 25th birthday.”

For many parents, saving for their children’s college is one of their largest monthly expenses—and failing to save early can make college much more difficult to afford. If you need to make sure your spouse will contribute to your children’s college savings, this is an issue that you will need to address specified during the divorce process.

Q: What Happens if a Parent Misses a Child Support Payment?

A: If a parent misses a child support payment, the other parent can seek to enforce the obligation to pay in the Illinois courts. If you become unable to pay, you should seek a modification promptly.

When you get divorced, the obligation to pay child support is established by court order. This means that failing to pay child support is a violation of a court order—and this can have serious consequences. There are several means for enforcing the obligation to pay child support under Illinois law (including wage garnishment, license suspension, and arrest, among others). If your former spouse stops paying, you should enforce your legal rights promptly; and, if you stop paying, you can expect to face enforcement action in court.

If you end up paying child support after your divorce and you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to pay due to a change in your financial circumstances, you will want to consult with an attorney promptly. You may be able to modify your child support payment obligation, and this can protect you from the types of consequences we just mentioned.

Q: When Does the Obligation to Pay Child Support End

A: The obligation to pay child support ends when the supported child reaches age 18 in most cases.

In most cases, the obligation to pay child support ends when a child reaches age 18. However, the obligation to pay can be extended to a child’s 19th birthday if he or she is still in high school, and it can end earlier if a child is emancipated.

Schedule a Free Initial Divorce Consultation in Gurnee, IL

Do you have questions about how child support will work with your divorce? If so, we encourage you to get in touch. To schedule a free initial divorce consultation with Lake County and Gurnee, IL divorce lawyer Deanna J. Bowen, please call 847-623-4002 or inquire online today.