What Impact Does Remarriage Have on Child Support?

Guidance for Custodial and Non-Custodial Parents

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It is not an uncommon situation: You divorced several years ago and agreed to monthly child support payments. But now you're remarrying, and things have changed. Not only do you now need to support your new spouse's kids, you may even be considering adoption. Or, you may simply want to start a new family and need a better sense of financial rights and responsibilities.

Whatever the circumstance, it is important to understand your legal obligations and what options may or may not be available to you. While child support laws can vary by state, the underlying legal principles remain more-or-less similar irrespective of where you live.

Be sure to review your state laws or consult a local attorney before discussing your options with your ex or new spouse.

If the Custodial Parent Remarries

The custodial parent is the one who has sole physical custody of the child from a previous marriage or the one with whom the child resides for a majority of the time. This is the person who would receive the monthly support check and is largely responsible for the child's day-to-day care.

If you are the custodial parent and plan to remarry, you will want to consider what, if any, impact this may have your child support and what your options may be if your new spouse decides to adopt your kids.

Remarriage and Child Support

Generally speaking, remarriage has no impact on whether you receive child support or not. At its heart, the law directs that the child's birth parents are responsible for the child's support and no one else. Therefore, in most states, the courts will not reduce an obligor’s child support payments due to a custodial parent’s decision to remarry.

With that being said, the non-custodial parent has the right to contest the original agreement if he or she believes that it is now unfair. This is especially true if the new spouse is able to provide extra financial assistance for the child. In such cases, the non-custodial parent’s child support obligations may be reduced accordingly.

However, until such a declaration is made, the non-custodial parent must continue to pay child support. Failure to do so may result in accrued interests on unpaid amounts as well as the possible garnishing of wages, the interception of unemployment compensation or tax refunds, the refusal to issue a passport, and even jail time.

Remarriage and Adoption

If your new spouse wants to legally adopt your children, it can only be done if the non-custodial parent has relinquished his or her parental rights. This rarely happens in cases where non-custodial parents are actively involved in their kids’ lives and are paying child support.

If for any reason the non-custodial parent does agree to surrender parental rights, he or she would no longer be obligated to pay child support. By adopting your kids, your new spouse has accepted the financial responsibility as their legal parent, a situation which will not change even if you later divorce

Opting Out of Child Support

Let's say that your new marriage has provided you with greater financial stability, and you no longer need the monthly child support check. Should you take steps to entirely opt out of child support, either as a gesture of goodwill or to distance yourself from your ex?

In most cases, this is not advisable, either for you, your ex, or your child. Severing the connection may have an emotional impact that goes well beyond dollars and cents, suggesting that your ex has a lesser role in your child's life.

A better option may be to save the money in a Section 529 Plan for your children's education. If you both agree to this, your ex would still need to continue keeping clear, accurate records of each payment so that court will be satisfied that he or she has lived up to the term of child support agreement.

If the Non-Custodial Parents Remarries

A non-custodial parent who decides to remarry has every right to start a new life and family but not at the expense of any children he or she may have had from a previous marriage. That's incontestable. 

Almost by rules, child custody orders do not change based on remarriage alone. As such, any non-custodial parent considering remarriage should consult with an attorney about the legal and financial ramifications of creating a blended family, ideally before getting remarried.

Remarriage and Child Support

If you, as the non-custodial parent, get remarried, your child support responsibility does not change; that much is clear. But let's now say your combined income suddenly nudges you up an income tax bracket or two. Does that mean you are liable for more child support than before?

Generally speaking, no. The courts do not consider the financial support for your children from a previous marriage to be the legal responsibility of your new spouse. That's not to say that your ex can't contest this or doesn't have legal precedence to do so. If, for example, your personal disposable income (the money you make irrespective of your new marriage) has increased substantially as a result of your new marriage, there may be a valid argument for a modification.

Example: You are able to put aside money for investments now that you are living in your new spouse's home. Your ex could reasonably argue that a portion of those funds should be channeled to your child's care. 

With that being said, you and your new wife's combined assets would not generally play a part in the court decision. This includes buying a new home together or enjoying a higher standard of living.

Remarriage and New Children

Let's now say that you and your new wife have decided to start a new family, but it is going to be a financial challenge. While you may feel justified to request a reduction in your child support payments, the courts are generally reluctant to do so. 

With that being said, laws regarding child support modification can vary significantly by state, and you would be well served to seek legal advice regarding the rights and limitations in your state (or the state in which your child resides).

In some cases, if you show that your overall household expenses have increased significantly or that your income has decreased significantly, the courts may consider a modification. It is a sticky and potentially contentious issue and one that needs to be considered with the best interest of your child in mind.

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