Choosing to file for child support can be a difficult decision. Many single parents worry that asking for child support will encourage the other parent to request additional parenting time. As a result, some parents wonder whether not filing for child support would be the smarter choice. Before you make a final decision about what's right for you and your kids, consider the following:
- Your child has the right to be financially supported by both parents. Whether you want to file for child support or not, it is actually your child's right to receive it. In addition, being legally recognized as the other parent's child also opens the door to your child receiving Social Security benefits and possibly even health care through the other parent's employer.
- Ask yourself whether you can support your child on your own, without child support. If you can't, then filing for child support is a necessary part of providing for your child. Know, too, that single parents who have not filed for child support must do so before being eligible for government assistance.
- Consider whether you will be able to afford future expenses. Look ahead. Will you be able to pay for your child's extra-curricular activities? Medical and dental care? College? Even if you can squeak by without child support right now, you might want to file for it so that you'll be able to pay for these types of future expenses.
- Ask yourself how you feel about having the other parent actively participate in your child’s life. This is an issue that many single parents worry about. Part of the process of filing for child support involves proving paternity; and once paternity is established, that may open the door to the other parent potentially exercising some previously-ignored parental rights, like visitation. This is important to be aware of. However, in most cases, the involvement is a positive experience, and refusing to file for child support out of fear will not guarantee that the other parent won't some day exercise his or her parental rights, anyway.
- Read up on your state’s child custody laws. It is helpful to know your state's child custody laws so that there are no surprises. In fact, if the other parent is threatening to file for shared custody if you ask for child support, your familiarity with the actual child custody statutes in your state may put your mind at ease.
- Consider your child's needs. This is the single most important factor to consider when deciding whether to file for child support. Ensuring that your child's needs are being met comes before anything else. Make sure, too, that you base your decision about filing for child support on actual facts—not worries, and not rumors of what you heard happened to another mom or dad.
In closing, remember that you don’t have to file for child support right now. You can always decide to file later. However, the process is lengthy and it may be several months before you actually begin to receive child support, so it's important to consider your current and anticipated needs, as well as the above factors.