What do Jason Mamoa, Terry Cruz, and Steven Spielberg have in common? They are all fathers in blended families. We need have no worries that their children and stepchildren are financially secure. But can we say the same for the typical Virginia blended family? How does a child from another relationship affect child support in Virginia?
The Child’s Best Interests
At the center of any issue with child support in Virginia is the child. Children are the powerless pawns in any adult dynamic. You and the child’s mother part ways; the child feels the effects. You and a new partner connect; your child feels that, too.
Under Virginia law, the significance of the best interests of the child is evident in passage after passage. No fewer than 69 sections of the Code of Virginia talk about “best interests of the child, including these key ones:
- § 20-124.3. Best interests of the child; visitation
- § 20-108.1. Determination of child or spousal support
- § 20-124.2. Court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements
Bear that phrase, “best interests of the child,” in mind when thinking about child support. If you owe it, you owe it not to the child’s mother, but to the child. If you receive it, you receive it on behalf of the child, not to benefit you.
In brief, this is the heart of the matter: the child is the beneficiary of financial support, and that support follows the child under all circumstances. If the child’s mother has a new partner, your role to provide support for the child you sired does not diminish.
That support, of course, is most practically financial. But you also have an obligation to provide emotional support and guidance to your child, wherever she or he is.
The child’s parent is often the custodian (either physically or legally) of the child. The other parent, the noncustodial parent, is usually obligated to provide child support under Virginia law.
Say you are the noncustodial parent and your child lives with her mother. You were required under court orders and Virginia Code § 20-108.2 to provide $347 a month in child support. Then, great news! Your daughter’s mother marries a millionaire!
Know how much child support you are obligated to pay now?
$347 a month, until she is 18 (or later if your beloved daughter has special needs). Your legal and financial obligation does not change even if your daughter’s circumstances change.
Say you are the custodial parent and the child’s mother is paying you $460 a month in child support. You marry a wealthy woman with five children from former relationships. You have a beautiful, blended family with six children. Your child’s mother still must pay you $460 a month for the care, feeding, clothing and housing of your child. The other five children are not her concern or the court’s concern.
The Step Parent
Unless and until the birth parent signs away parental rights to the child, the step parent is legally a non-entity in the child’s life. Sure, you hope your new partner loves your child (if you are the custodial parent), but for legal, medical, educational and religious decisions, the step parent has no voice.
If the step parent in a relationship chooses to adopt the child, the situation changes. This can only happen if the birth parent’s parental rights are legally terminated under Code of Virginia § 16.1-283.
Think long and hard before consenting to give up parental rights to your own child just to avoid paying child support. Think very hard about the effect such a move will have on the child in the years ahead.
Adoption by the step parent will relieve you, the noncustodial parent, of the obligation to pay child support. Adoption itself is a long process codified in Virginia law Code of Virginia Chapter 12. Presumably the step parent seeking to adopt your child is doing so out of love and a generous heart, not out of a desire to relieve you of the need to pay child support.
The New Child
Under what is known as common law, a new child has had no effect on a support order for a child from a previous relationship. This has been the prevailing wisdom for many years in the Commonwealth. The legislators’ thoughts were that a parent’s first children had priority — the parent must take financial responsibility for the children dependent on her or him, without regard to new arrivals.
That line of reasoning is becoming passé, since Virginia seeks to protect all children. For many progressive thinkers in Virginia, all children of any parent must have their basic needs addressed:
- Food and water
- Security and safety
All of these needs cost money, and the parent must provide. The parent is assumed to have limited financial resources, so most courts now will consider how realistic the guidelines can be in providing for children of an earlier relationship and children of a new relationship.
Virginia’s guidelines provide an income deduction for natural or adopted children who are not involved in a current child support order. The guidelines under Code of Virginia, § 20-108.1 B(1) stipulate that “Actual monetary support for other family members” is one of the factors a court can consider in establishing child support.
Virginia’s standards for deviating from the prescribed support amounts also show additional evidence of a new child’s significance, though those standards are not automatic rebuttals to a given child support amount.
Your financial responsibility for a new child does not necessarily mean a material change in circumstances; it is one of several factors a Circuit Court or Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court can consider in determining whether to modify a support order.
This may sound confusing; the legislature gives wide latitude to judges to determine exactly how much a parent will pay in child support, and the existence of a new child could bear on that determination. Your attorney is your best guide to how a new child may affect your child support order.
While the child has primacy at the center of nearly all Virginia family law issues, your attorney comes in a close second. Turn to your attorney to sort out concerns over child support, reducing or increasing it, or petitioning the court due to changes in material circumstances. Paying for a few hours’ attorney consultation time could, in the long run, save you money and protect your child.
Why contact The Firm For Men with basic questions about child support? Because a wrong decision could cost you, financially and emotionally. Call our offices at 757-383-9184, or drop by if you are in the Virginia Beach area. We can help sort out the thorniest family law matter. We are always working to protect your rights and financial security.