Many questions arise when it comes to child support and what is covered and what is not. This could be argued as the greatest issue with child support in that, while there are guidelines, there are no standards or systematic process for child support across states. Therefore, each set of parents defines exactly what child support means to them in a child support agreement. If they are unable to come to an agreement than an order is made by the courts. Either way, there are some general guidelines that remain consistent across states.
The biggest misconception by some is that child support should only cover a child’s bare necessities, such as food and clothing. In truth, child support is meant to cover a broad range of expenses, which may include school fees, entertainment, medical, and extracurricular activities, among other things.
To help clarify this issue, all 50 states have established child support guidelines to determine the amount of child support a parent may be required to pay. As such, courts take into consideration a variety of factors, such as a parent’s income and ability to pay, the financial needs of the child and the amount of support needed to maintain a child’s existing standard of living, if at all possible.
When it comes to accountability, this is only a requirement in 13 states, all other courts assume the funds are paying for the necessary expenses to raise the child and, therefore, courts will not monitor the spending habits of a custodial parent.
Because child support laws vary greatly among the states, it is important to check the child support guidelines in your state to determine how support may be calculated in your particular case.
Basic Necessities – Food, Clothing and Shelter
Obviously, children need food, proper clothing, and a safe and comfortable place to live. At a minimum, child support may be used to purchase groceries, snacks, beverages, and other food items. It may also be used to purchase shoes, jackets, and appropriate clothing. Also, child support may be used to pay for the child’s related shelter costs, such as mortgage or rent, lighting, telephone, and utility bills.
Children need basic medical care. Most states require divorced or separated parents to carry some form of health insurance for their child. Typically, the parent with better employee-covered benefits will be required to carry the medical, dental and/or vision insurance plan.
Uninsured Medical Expenses
Child support may be used to pay for uninsured or “extraordinary” medical expenses. “Extraordinary” medical expenses may include any out-of-pocket medical costs that exceed the cost of a basic health care insurance plan, including co-pays, deductibles, and surgery costs. In many circumstances, child support may be used to cover these and other expenses, such as dental braces, casts, eyeglasses, and other special health care costs (especially if a child has pre-existing special medical needs). Most states require both parents to split the cost of additional medical care (depending on their state’s guidelines).
Education Expenses (School fees, tuition, supplies, books, sports and othe related costs!)
Education is not free, even if a child is attending a public school. There are several fees needed to support school-aged children. Therefore, child support may be used to pay for many school-related needs, such as school clothes/uniforms, tuition fees, textbooks, lunch money, and private tutors, if necessary.
If one or both parents are unable to care for their child due to work-related issues, then child support may cover the costs of childcare expenses. This may include the cost of daycare services, babysitters, nannies, or other childcare expenses and fees. This may also include the cost of child care during summer months, spring break, and some holidays.
Transportation & Travel
Since children need to get from one place to another safely, child support may be used to pay for basic transportation and travel cost. This may include the cost to maintain a car, including gas fees, car payments, registration, and insurance, or the cost to ride a bus or other form transportation.
Child support may also be used for travel cost — especially when a child is traveling to visit the noncustodial parent in another area, for instance.
Many courts hold that a child is entitled to basic entertainment, which may include access to computers, television programs, games, and the Internet, among other things. This may also include visits to a movie theatre, amusement parks, camping trips, and other outings. Therefore, child support may be used for a child’s age-appropriate entertainment desires, as agreed upon between the parents.
Extracurricular Activities – Summer Camp, Sports & More
Child support may be used to pay for a child’s extracurricular activities — typically those that fall outside of regular school hours. This may include after-school programs/classes, summer camp, sports activities, clubs (for example, Girl Scouts), and other non-school related activities.
In some instances, child support may be used to pay for a child’s college expenses. Many states reason that a child’s education should not suffer because of their parents’ divorce or separation. These states will typically require a noncustodial parent to contribute to the cost of college, even after the child has reached the age of majority if the child is attending full-time and has not yet graduated.
In conclusion, courts will factor the essential financial and support needs of a child, and reflect those needs in a child support order. If a child’s needs change, or if there is a significant change in a parent’s circumstances, however, it may be necessary for a parent to file for a modification of existing child support, or contact a child support lawyer in their area.