By Meghan McCann
Children are entitled to financial and emotional support from both parents regardless of whether they are married.
Yet the process for establishing child support orders and determining parenting time and custody arrangements is quite different for parents who didn’t marry.
When a married couple with children gets divorced, state family law statutes have procedures for determining child support and parenting time as part of a unified court process.
Conversely, unmarried parents needing assistance with paternity establishment and child support can receive assistance from the state child support agency, but there is no similar resource available to assist unmarried parents with establishing parenting time arrangements.
It is often noted that the more time a noncustodial parent spends with their child, the more child support will be paid. The intersection between child support and parenting time, however, is a complicated one that affects a large number of families. In 2011, 23.4 million children under the age of 21 lived with just one parent, and in 2013 approximately 40 percent of births were to unmarried mothers. Given the changing demographics of families, understanding this distinction is becoming more and more critical.
While many states allow for child support to be adjusted based on the amount of time each parent spends with the child, most child support orders established by the public child support system do not include a corresponding parenting time order or arrangement. In fact, nearly 7-in-10 parents involved with the public child support program do not have an official parenting time order.
NCSL’s Child Support Project has a new web page, Child Support and Parenting Time Orders, addressing the issue, looking at the difference between the establishment of child support and parenting time orders for both married and unmarried parents and detailing state policies and considerations for legislators.
In addition, we will be hosting an issue forum at NCSL’s upcoming Legislative Summit, Married or Not: Parenting Time Matters.
Meghan McCann is a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Children and Families Program. She covers child support and family law policy issues.