Do Women Have to Pay Child Support?

When going through a divorce, some women may be surprised to find that they are on the hook for paying child support to their ex-spouse. It’s easy to fall into the stereotypical assumption that only men pay child support. Do women have to pay child support?

The answer is that women can (and do) pay child support. The world has changed rapidly over the last few decades. Women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners of their households while more men are choosing to stay home to raise the children. Men are also increasingly sharing custody with their ex-wives or even becoming the primary custodial parent. Same-sex marriages can also feature wives with vastly different incomes. All these factors mean that women paying child support is a more common occurrence than you might think.

In fact, both Britney Spears and Halle Berry were ordered to pay child support to their husbands after a divorce. Berry, reportedly, had to pay her ex, Gabriel Aubry $16,000 a month in child support, while Spears had to hand over $20,000 a month to Kevin Federline after their 2007 split.

Will you have to pay child support to your spouse? We’ll look at the factors that determine child support and explore why more women than ever are paying child support to their ex-spouses.

How Child Support Is Calculated

All states believe that both parents of a child must share the financial responsibility of raising their shared children. To this point, every state has a specific set of guidelines that lays out how support for children is calculated. These guidelines vary from state to state. Most guidelines take into consideration the income of both spouses (though some states only take into consideration the income of the non-custodial parent) when determining if and how much support is owed. The three biggest factors in determining whether a spouse will owe child support is:

  • Your custody arrangement
  • Your income (and how much it differs from your spouse’s income)
  • Your children’s special needs


The greater the share of custody one spouse has, the more likely that spouse will be owed child support. A greater share of custody can also result in a higher amount of child support for the spouse. This is especially true if the spouse with more custody also has a lower income than the other spouse.

While mothers in heterosexual couples are far more likely to be the custodial parent of their minor children, one in every six custodial parents (17.5%) is a custodial father. Additionally, more divorcing couples are seeking shared custody. The percentage of shared custody after divorce has risen from 13% in 1985 to 34% in 2014.

Even a custodial mother who retains primary custody of the children can still owe child support if the father or other spouse has some amount of custody of the children.

In a situation of shared custody, if one parent makes far less income than the other, they may be entitled to receive child support payments. Don’t assume that the lower-earning spouse is always the woman!

Differences in Income

If a lower-earning spouse has some custody or primary custody of the children, then income will play a big role in calculating whether and how much the higher-earning spouse might owe in child support payments.

Some states will take a flat percentage of the higher spouse’s income. Many others will use a formula based on the difference between the incomes of the higher and lower-earning spouse. The more a woman out-earns her spouse, the greater amount of child support she’ll owe!

Britney Spears and Halle Berry aren’t outliers when it comes to being the breadwinners in their marriages. In roughly 30% of heterosexual marriages, the spouses earn about the same amount of money, while in 16% of marriages, the woman is the primary or sole breadwinner.

Additionally, while the stay-at-home parent role usually goes to the mother, even this tradition is changing. In 2012, over two million fathers took on the role of stay-at-home parents in their households.

Special Needs

The calculation states make when determining how much child support obligation one spouse owes can be flexible. Courts will often try to devise a solution that will allow children to maintain a similar quality of life to the one they had before the divorce, especially if one spouse earns a high income. If, for example, a child has high medical expenses, is attending a private school, or requires special schooling, a spouse may have to pay even more in child support so that the child can receive the care they need!

Negotiating for Child Support

While state courts have specific formulas for determining child support, that doesn’t mean every couple has to follow this formula to the letter. In fact, many divorcing couples choose to negotiate child support outside of court as part of their divorce process. They can negotiate on their own, with the help of an experienced divorce attorney, through divorce mediation, or through a collaborative divorce approach.

Negotiating child custody and child support can be emotionally challenging, especially if the spouses have very different ideas of what they want. It doesn’t have to be impossible, however. Couples who can maintain a working relationship may be able to have a fair and open discussion about child support payments. If you have trouble coming to a resolution, you may want to seek out a divorce attorney who can help you put together a settlement strategy. A divorce mediator can also help guide the process if you choose mediation or your collaborative divorce team can support the discussion if you are using a collaborative divorce approach.

The child support agreement you make with your spouse doesn’t have to fit the state’s standard. For example, a higher-earning spouse may choose to provide more child support than the state may require in exchange for other benefits in the settlement or simply because they want to make sure their child has as much financial support from both parents as possible.

The court will have to sign off on your divorce decree, so the child support arrangement must adhere to child support law and generally be fair to both parents.

A Divorce Lawyer May Be Able to Help

Not sure if you’ll owe child support to your spouse? An experienced divorce lawyer can help guide you in this matter. You’ll need to know your full annual income and your spouse’s income so your family law attorney can give you the most accurate assessment possible. That includes additional income that comes from sources outside your job. Income should include

  • Paychecks
  • Bonuses
  • Rental income
  • Capital gains
  • Investment income

It will also be helpful to your lawyer if you provide a household budget and/or include any special costs for your child, such as

  • Medical expenses
  • School costs
  • Cost of sports or other extracurricular activities
  • Child care costs
  • Any regular services your child receives

The attorney can then use the child support guidelines for your state to determine if you might owe child support and how much that support will be.

You can also seek the help of a financial professional with a specialty in divorce. This individual can look at your income versus your spouse’s income and help you determine whether you might owe child support and what a fair amount would be to offer as part of your settlement.

Don’t have a divorce lawyer or financial adviser? You can find child support calculators for your state online. Just be aware that these child support calculators may not be fully accurate.

Women Can Owe Child Support

Can women pay child support? You now know the answer is yes. High-earning women who share custody with their spouse may owe child support to their ex. If you earn more than your spouse and you either share custody or your spouse has primary custody, chances are you’ll owe child support.

While women owing child support may make your divorce more costly, there is a positive way to think about it. Providing child support to your ex will help them take better care of your children and give your children a more stable and fulfilling life.

Want to learn more about what to expect during a divorce? Sign up for the next Second Saturday Divorce Workshop near you!

Child Support FAQs

Do women have to pay child support?

Yes, women can have to pay child support. In fact, courts are increasingly recognizing that both parents have a financial obligation to support their children, regardless of gender. This includes paying for medical expenses, school costs, childcare costs, and other regular services required by the child. Additionally, a woman may be asked to pay child support if she earns a higher income than her spouse.

Courts will follow the child support guidelines of their state when determining child support. A father with more custody or who is a full custodial father will be more likely to receive child support. Noncustodial parents are less likely to receive child support.

Can a woman be forced to pay child support?

Yes, a woman can be forced by a court to pay child support. The court considers the income of both parents when determining who should pay what amount of child support. Both men and women can be held accountable for their share of the responsibility. It is important to note that in most cases, the non-custodial parent (the parent with less custodial time) is the one required to pay child support.

How long does a woman have to pay child support?

If a woman is required by a family law court to pay child support, the amount and duration of the payment will depend on the state’s laws. Generally speaking, child support payments may be required for as long as the child is a minor, or until they reach the age of 18 or 19 depending on the state. (In some states, payments can last until age 19 if the child is still in high school.)

If you currently have adult children (without special needs), you will not owe support to your spouse.

In some cases, such as when a child has special needs, child support payments may last longer or could even last indefinitely if the adult child requires ongoing care.

Can I pay less in child support?

In certain situations, you can ask a judge to lower your child support requirements. You can request a modification of child support by showing that you are no longer able to make the current payments, your ex-spouse has less need of the payments, or that you are taking on more childcare duties.

Some examples of when you might be able to lower your child support obligations are

  • You lose your job
  • You face high medical expenses
  • Your ex has gotten a new, higher-paying job or raise
  • Your ex has re-married and has a higher household income
  • Your child or children are spending more time with you

Unless your ex agrees to the lower payments, you’ll need to make your case before a family court judge.

How do I know if I will owe child support?

The first step to determine if you will owe child support is to calculate your gross income and that of your spouse. This includes all sources of income such as wages, bonuses, rental income, capital gains, investment income, and other forms of compensation.

You’ll also need to estimate how much custody each parent will have with the children. If your spouse will spend significant parenting time with the children, they will be more likely to qualify for child support.

If you earn significantly more than your spouse and believe your spouse will have at least some amount of custody of your children, there’s a chance you could owe child support. For example, if your spouse earns minimum wage while you earn a high salary, there’s a good chance you’ll owe your spouse support.

In addition, it is important to note that American women can also be responsible for paying child support. Even if a woman was the primary role of caregiver in the home, if she earns more than her spouse, she may be asked to pay child support by the court.

Working with a divorce lawyer or consulting with a financial expert who specializes in divorce can help you determine if you’ll owe child support. You can also start to get a rough idea of what you might owe by using a child support calculator. Use these child support calculations as a reference point rather than gospel, as many factors go into determining how much you might owe.

If my husband doesn’t work, will I owe child support?

If your husband is currently unemployed or has stayed home to raise the children and you are employed, there’s a chance you will owe your husband child support. The higher the discrepancy in income, the more likely you’ll be to owe child support.

If your ex-husband gets a job after your divorce, you may be able to petition the court to lower your child support payments.

Can a woman’s wages be garnered if she doesn’t pay child support?

Yes, a woman’s wages can be garnished if she doesn’t pay child support. Her spouse (or their attorney) can file a motion with the court that handles the divorce or child support order. The motion will ask the court to create an income withholding order, which instructs employers to take money out of a parent’s paycheck and send it directly to the state.

Can a woman go to jail for not paying child support?

Yes, as scary as it seems, a woman can go to jail for not paying child support. If a court determines that you owe child support and you refuse to pay, you can be persecuted for contempt of court and serve time in jail.

Family courts actually have many unpleasant options when it comes to the enforcement of child support. The state may withhold tax returns in the face of unpaid child support or place liens on your property until the arrears are paid off. Depending on the state laws, there could be other consequences for unpaid or past-due child support, such as having your driver’s license suspended or professional license revoked.

Even if you think it’s unfair that you have to pay child support, don’t skip those payments! Child support non-payment will make your life far worse.

What is a custodial father?

A custodial father is a father who has been granted physical and legal custody of a child or children as determined by the court. In cases where both parents are awarded joint custody, the parent with whom the children primarily reside will be considered the custodial parent. Custodial fathers have many of the same rights and responsibilities as custodial mothers, including making decisions about where their children go to school, what medical care they receive, and how they spend their time. A custodial father may receive child support from the children’s mother if the mother makes a higher income than the father.

Is there a minimum child support amount?

Yes, there is a minimum child support amount that must be paid by the non-custodial parent. This amount varies from state to state and is determined by the court. Generally speaking, the minimum amount of child support that must be paid is based on the income of both parents , how much time the child spends with each parent, and any additional costs associated with the care of the child.

What is a child support attorney?

A child support attorney is a legal professional who specializes in family law and helping individuals navigate the process of establishing, modifying, or enforcing a child support order. A child support lawyer understands the complexities of state and federal laws related to child support, including how income levels and parenting time are calculated when determining the amount of child support that should be paid.

A child support lawyer can also provide valuable advice and representation to parents who are having difficulty negotiating a fair payment arrangement and ensure that their rights and those of their children are protected throughout the process.

What is the child support agency?

The Child Support Agency (CSA) is a federal agency that works to ensure that children receive financial support from their non-custodial parents. The CSA helps families establish, enforce, and modify child support orders so that parents can provide the necessary financial support for their children.

The CSA provides numerous services to help non-custodial parents comply with their court-ordered obligations, such as locating the other parent, helping families create payment agreements, and providing assistance in collecting and distributing child support payments. The CSA also assists with enforcing overdue payments, when necessary.

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