Can I Get Child Support if I'm Not Divorced Yet?

By Heather Frances J.D.

Father holding hands with children at school

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All parents are legally obligated to support their children, regardless of whether the parents are married, but most married parents don't try to put a child support order in place until they start thinking about divorce. It is possible to receive child support while you are still married, but you will have to follow your state’s procedures to receive it, which may involve filing a request with the court.

Child Support Before Divorce

The custodial parent doesn't have to file for divorce before beginning a child support case. If you and your spouse aren’t ready to initiate a divorce yet, the custodial parent may file a complaint or petition with the court to establish a child support order. Your state’s child support enforcement agency or local prosecutor may offer assistance with filing this complaint. Child support is not typically retroactive to the date of separation, so the earlier you file, the more money you can receive.

Custody and Visitation Before Divorce

Because the amount of child support usually hinges on the court's distribution of parenting time, custody and visitation will also be addressed in the petition and child support order, even if the order is issued before a divorce is final. While the court’s custody and visitation determination is not permanent, the court may base the final custody and visitation order on the temporary one established prior to the divorce.

Pendente Lite Orders

When a divorce case has been filed, a court may enter temporary orders, called “pendente lite” orders, to decide such issues as alimony and child support while the divorce is pending. With these temporary orders, a custodial parent can get a child support order within weeks after filing for divorce. You will likely have to ask the court for a temporary child support order by filing a pendente lite motion. Once the order is issued, it can be enforced like any other court order.

Changing a Child Support Order

A pendente lite child support order may be similar to the final order set forth in the divorce decree, unless custody arrangements change or a parent suffers a significant change of financial circumstances during the pendency of the divorce. Such changes in circumstances could impact the court’s application of the state’s child support guidelines, so the amount of support will need to be recalculated before the final order is issued. If circumstances change after the divorce is final, your state may allow a child support order modification.