This Is What Child Support IS...And Is NOT
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March 21, 2017 - Updated March 30, 2017


The legal definition of child support (according to Legal Dictionary) is funds ordered by the court for one parent to pay to the other to assist in the cost of raising their shared children. Support is, most often, determined by a standardized income table and factors in number of children, incomes of both parents, and the custody arrangement.

The intent of support is to offset the burden of child-related costs so that the parent with less income, or who has the children a greater amount of time, is able to maintain the children’s needs and so that the children’s standard of living between homes remains as consistent as possible.

As we all know, what is written in the law books and behind the intent of such rules is not always what is experienced in real life! Child support remains one of the most hotly-contested issues of divorce as many children go without the support that could be used to help take care of them. A tally of unpaid support in 1992 calculated that a staggering $27 billion in outstanding uncollected child support prevented children from having their needs met and that nearly 50% of child support payments were in default (in 1995), while only 3% of car loans were in the same state!

On the flipside, many who are ordered to pay support find themselves with such a large portion taken out of their pay that they have barely enough to survive. Others complain that the money is often misused by the other parent for their personal needs, rather than for the children. Laws are getting tougher in most states, even allowing for revocation of licenses (professional, driving, or recreational) as punishment for unpaid support, as well as holds put on passports and tax refunds.

Few would disagree that if support is ordered, it should be paid to help support the child.

Essentially, if a man and woman lie down together to make a child, then they are both responsible, through either time or financial support (preferably both) to contribute to the child’s upbringing.

Most would also surely agree that any ordered maintenance is child support, and not to be used for the parent who receives it to fund shopping sprees and treats for themselves!

Clearly, many “bugs” still need to be worked out in the system to make sure that amounts set are fair, adequately meet the children’s needs, are collected, and being used appropriately.

In the meantime, this is what IS and IS NOT child support:

Child support may be used on general household expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, utilities, and so on to maintain a safe and decent home for the child.

An appropriate use of child support is for school supplies, school fees, clothing, and trips.

Child support can help pay for sports, clubs, lessons, and extra-curricular activities.

Medical expenses, glasses, dental care, and other such needs are good uses of child support.

Child support can help to buy furnishings, books, toys, food, and other basic needs of the child.

Child support is child support; therefore, should not be used for:

Clothing, manicures, pedicures, hairstyling, and other salon services for the parent.

Money for the receiving parent for dining out or vacations without the child.

Child support should not be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, and other such things that are clearly not for the child.

If there is actually money left over in a given month, the money should simply be saved and applied to a future need of the child’s instead of treated as surplus money for the parent to use on themself.

In all cases, the parties should review their parenting agreement to clarify any other stipulations about which parent is responsible for what, and what else might be considered child support. In some cases, for example, carrying medical insurance may count toward or as child support. Your plan may still state that the parent who pays support is also liable to pay for a share of medical and other expenses (or not!).

Child support is not a “free pass” to get out of any other child-related expenses dictated in the plan.

Jessa, a mother of four, shared that she and her ex agreed to a support amount well under the state of Ohio’s standard amount, with the understanding that he would also carry the children’s health insurance and pay for half of all child-related expenses (e.g. sports fees, uniforms, school trips, and so on). Jessa is the residential parent, and was awarded child support because the children are in her home 60-70% of the time and her ex’s income is $30,000 higher than hers (they have 50/50 custody, but he is unavailable to take them his full time).

However, every time she presents her ex with his share of an expense, she is told that he pays child support; therefore will not pay for anything else!

Child support should also not be withheld for suspicion of misuse, nor access to the children denied for non-payment. While misappropriation of child support and refusal of contact are both serious offenses, the parties should not take these matters into their own hands. Instead, documentation of allegations should be maintained and presented to the court to act on.

While the courts and child support enforcement agencies continue to streamline and improve the process to be as efficient and fair as possible to all involved, the burden falls on parents to remember the purpose of child support. The money should not be handed over in anger because one’s ex will be able to use it, just as it should not be received with an attitude that it is excess money with which to treat oneself! The purpose of support is, and will always be, to meet the needs of the child: to keep the child safe, healthy, and secure. No matter what, the money is for the child, and the child comes first!



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