Do You Continue to Owe Child Support if Your Child Moves in?

Generally Speaking, a parent should not be paying child support if their child is living with them. In general, a parent with whom a child spends most of their time should not be required to pay child support.

As children get older, it’s not unusual for them to decide to move in with the non-custodial parent. I am frequently asked what happens to child support when this happens. 

This article will help you understand this issue and the legal questions that arise. By the end of this article, you will understand the following:

  1. What happens to child support obligation when a child decides to move in with the non-custodial parent
  2. What must a parent do when a child moves in to protect themselves from a legal and financial mistake?
  3. Do you have to go to court if both parents agree to change the custody and child support order?  

Does Child Support Stop When a Child Decides to Move in With a Non-Custodial Parent?

Usually, between the ages of 13 and 16, a child will decide they want to move into the non-custodial parent’s home. As children get older, forcing them to live somewhere they don’t want to becomes more difficult for parents.

Clients frequently ask me: Will I still have to pay child support if my child moves in with me?

Generally, the obligation to pay child support does not automatically stop when a child moves in with the custodial parent. Child support can only be modified by court order.

When parents divorce or split custody, the court will generally order one parent to pay child support to the other parent. As far as the amount of child support is concerned, it depends on the law of the state in which the case is pending. 

Child support orders remain in effect until they are modified by court order. The fact that your child moved in with you does not change the court order, and technically, the parent continues to owe child support to the custodial parent. Non-custodial parents will continue to owe child support since the court’s child support order has not been modified to reflect the change in living arrangements. 

The non-custodial parent must continue to pay child support until custody and support orders are modified so that no adverse enforcement actions can be taken against you. Don’t simply discontinue making child support payments. Until the child support order is modified, you are obligated by the order of the court to continue making payments. 

What You Should Do if Your Child Moves in With You

The first step towards getting the child support amount modified is to make sure your custody agreement is legally changed. Suppose the child  has moved into the non-custodial parent’s house, but there has not been a legal change to the custody order. In that case, the non-custodial parent should immediately file a motion to modify the custody order.

A custody order is not only necessary to modify your child support obligations, but it will also protect your children. If the other parent changes their mind regarding the child’s move, you’d have to go back to the original custody order as required by your court order if it hasn’t been modified.

As it relates to modifying the child support order, the general rule is that child support orders are always modifiable. There is, however, a general rule that child support can only be modified prospectively. Even if the child lives with you, you are still obligated to pay child support until you file a motion to modify child support.

When a court modifies child support, it does so retroactively to the date the motion to modify was filed. So if you want to stop or modify your child support obligation, you should file a motion as soon as possible. If not, child support will continue to accrue.

There is a good chance the non-custodial parent will no longer owe child support if the motion to modify custody and modify child support is filed.

Please take this situation seriously. I have seen cases where a parent l ended up owing a considerable child support arrearage plus interest because he did not file a motion to modify even though the child had been living with the parent by agreement with the other parent. The court was sympathetic, but the law tied its hands. 

Do Parents Have to Go to Court to Modify a Child Support Order?

As discussed above, a court-approved parenting plan may need to be revised if there has been a change in the child’s living circumstances. 

In general, a child support order modification may be accomplished informally or formally. If both parents agree upon the change, it is unnecessary to go to trial or have a contested hearing to make a simple change to the parenting plan.

Parents may agree to minor changes, such as visitation days, times, or exchange locations. Sometimes, a parent may want a more significant change, such as where the child resides most of the time. This would require a new court order to be binding. But it may not be necessary to hire attorneys and go to court to obtain a new court order.

When parents agree on the changes to be made to the parenting plan order, they may file their agreement (called a stipulation) for modification with the court. Most courts will grant the request without a formal hearing, depending on the nature of the change. 

The judge will probably sign the agreement without a hearing if it is only a minor change. If the change is more significant, the judge may ask the parents to come to court to talk with them so that the judge can make sure that the change to the order is in the best interest of the child. 

How to Handle a Back Due Child Support Claim When The Child was Living With You

Some arguments can be made if a claim is being made against a parent for back child support owed during a time when the child was living with the non-custodial parent. 

The best defense is that once the child moved in, the non-custodial parent started discharging his child support obligation by supporting the child directly. In most states, this is called a direct credit. But there’s a catch: direct credits are only available if the child moved in and lived with the non-custodial parent 100% of the time. 

If you have specific questions about this situation, you should contact a family law attorney in your jurisdiction for legal advice.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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