What Does Child Support Cover?

Siblings sit on the floor of their playroom while working on a puzzle together.

Determining child support during a divorce or separation is an incredibly important process. But it can also become a giant source of conflict when parents do not agree on what expenses should be covered or how to handle purchases that aren't typically included in a support payment.

It’s important to understand what your state laws say about child support payments, how they’re determined, and how extraordinary expenses should be handled by parents after a divorce. The following information is a general look at how many states approach child support; however, you should always consult a family law professional in your area for insight into the specific laws in your state.

Basic Child Support

Child support, at its simplest, is meant to help with the “normal” expenses associated with raising a child. These normal expenses include food, shelter, transportation, clothing, and certain educational costs.

When getting acquainted with the particulars of child support, knowing when it is appropriate to use child support funds can be confusing. Parents may use child support funds to help with general expenses, such as mortgage or rent payments, car maintenance, and other purchases that may not be exclusively tied to the raising of children. Expenses such as these are not a misuse of child support, however, as they contribute to a child’s shelter and transportation, even if that child is not the sole beneficiary of an apartment or vehicle.

Other expenses will be more straightforward: summer clothing, rain boots, notebooks and other school supplies, lunch money. These are all clearly expenses that are normally encountered when raising children.

The recipient of child support is not required to inform their co-parent of purchases, seek their approval, or report on the usage of child support payments. Funds received from child support do not have to be kept separate from a household’s other funds. And while state child support guidelines do outline the expenses to be covered by child support payments, recipients of child support are typically allowed a certain level of discretion when allocating funds.

However, if a child appears to be neglected despite regular child support payments, parents should consult a family law professional immediately about how to proceed.

Shared Physical Custody and Child Support

Child support obligations may be modified in certain states when parenting time is shared. Depending on the percentage of time with each parent, child support payments may be altered from the standard guidelines to reflect the financial responsibility parents share when they also share physical custody.

When physical custody is shared, both parents will most likely make purchases for their children in the form of food, school supplies, and other daily necessities. A parent paying child support, however, cannot deduct these expenses from their regularly scheduled support payments. 

Additional Support

Beyond the expenses of food, shelter, and clothing that are covered by basic child support, many states include additional expenses when calculating the final financial obligations of parents after a divorce or separation.  

In Minnesota, for example, state laws consider medical and dental fees and child care costs when determining overall child support responsibilities. The shared financial responsibility for these additional support items is determined on a case-by-case basis. For parents who share physical custody and both pay for child care, for instance, the higher childcare costs will be offset by the lower, the difference between which shall then be used in calculating child care support obligations.

Texas, in addition to medical and child care costs, takes other factors into account when deciding whether the standard child support guidelines are appropriate for a family. These can include, but are not limited to, costs for children traveling between parents, special or extraordinary educational costs, and post-secondary education costs.

Parents may be wondering how extracurricular activity fees and supplies will be handled after their divorce. Unless specifically stated otherwise in their parenting plan, many parents may have to contribute to these expenses out of their pocket or rely on their basic child support payment to help offset these costs. However, certain states, such as Illinois, do give courts the ability to order additional support for extracurricular activity expenses which “enhance the educational, athletic, social, or cultural development of the child.”

Additional expenses considered when determining a child support order vary by state, so it’s essential that parents consult a family law professional in their area with any questions they have about child support.

Other Expenses

When creating their parenting plan, co-parents may wish to include provisions for handling expenses that would otherwise not be sufficiently covered by basic child support obligations. If a state does not include extracurricular activity expenses when calculating child support obligations, for example, parents may wish to negotiate shared responsibility for activity fees if their child participates in a particularly expensive activity, such as gymnastics or a traveling sports team. 

Every child-related expense may not be covered by child support. If co-parents disagree about non-essential expenses for their children, the parent who feels more strongly about the purchase may simply have to foot the bill to proceed. 

 

Child support obligations should be approached always with the best interests of children in mind. Children have the right to be supported by both parents, and child support payments that will help them be clothed, fed, and ready for school are just one facet of that support. 

As with every aspect of determining how to approach parenting after divorce, it is absolutely vital that parents consult with a family law practitioner in their area to prepare. While child support recommendations share many similarities across states, parents need to know the specifics of their region to make sure their child support meets their state's regulations.