Child support is a type of payment provided under family law. This legal obligation takes a portion of the income from the parent who is not the primary caregiver of the children in question, in order to provide money to the parent who is providing the primary care. The premise of child support laws is that if both parents were together raising the child, there would be more income going toward the care of the child than the primary caregiver can provide on their own.
If you are a parent who pays child support, for your children, or if you are the custodial parent in need of child support payments, it is important for you to understand what child support does and does not cover.
Child support coverage
Across all states, child support coverage is intended to help with the basic needs of a child, including food, housing, and clothing. Beyond these, there are some extra child support expenses that a given court may approve.
Child support coverage may extend to:
- Basic necessities including food, housing, and clothing
- Medical care for the child
- Educational fees for the child
- Child care
- Extracurricular activities
- Transportation or travel as it relates to the child’s needs/activities
- Potentially, college expenses
What does your child “need”? Determining child support costs.
The purpose of child support coverage is to cover a child’s basic necessities: food, clothing, and housing. This includes food, snacks, drinks, and other food items to keep the child healthy. It also includes shoes, clothes, and jackets as necessary to keep the child clothed and healthy. Finally, it also encompasses costs such as rent or mortgage payments to provide shelter for the child, as well as housing costs for things like lighting, utilities, or a phone.
Child support is also meant to cover a child’s medical care. Many states require that parents who are divorced or separated maintain medical insurance for their child. In most family situations, the parent who has a better insurance plan from their workplace will be responsible for maintaining the child’s medical insurance.
For example: If a mother has a medical insurance plan from her office that covers medical costs only, while the father has an insurance plan that offers medical, dental, and vision coverage, the courts will likely require that the father keep the child under their plan instead of the mother due to the breadth of coverage.
Other covered items included under the category of medical care of a child include “extraordinary” items, like insurance co-pays, deductibles, eyeglasses, braces, casts, or specialized health care for children with complex medical needs.
A court may determine that educational fees will become part of the child support payment. Education fees include the costs of keeping a child in school, including public school. These fees can extend to books, lunch money, tuition, uniforms or clothes for school, or even private tutors if required.
The child care aspect of child support coverage is intended to cover the costs of hiring child care for children if one or more of the parents have to work outside the home and are unable to watch the child. This typically comes in the form of payment of salaries of nannies or babysitters or daycare fees. Child care can differ from month to month, and can also include child care over holidays or summer periods when schools are not in session.
For example: Courts might determine that since the parent providing primary child care works 4 days per week until 3pm, they can pick up the child after school at 3pm. However, on the 5th school day, a sitter or nanny is required to help with school pick-up duties as the parent is at work. In this situation, the court may determine that the total child support payment will factor in these childcare costs.
Costs associated with the primary parent’s ability to provide safe transportation to and from places like school, the store, the doctor, etc. may also be factored into the child support payment. Transportation costs may include care insurance, costs associated with maintaining a car, car payments, car registration and gas, or the cost to use public transportation.
Your child’s extracurricular activities may also be included as part of the child support payment. This portion of the payment would be used to cover your child’s activities that take place after school such as Boy or Girl Scouts, sports teams, summer camps, or arts classes.
In some states, a court might also include entertainment in the cost of child support, which holds that children are entitled to basic entertainment. This can extend to internet access, televisions, or computers, as well as outings to movie theaters, amusement parks, or concerts.
Finally, there are states that include college education as part of the child support payment, if the child attends full time.
Additional Considerations for Child Support Coverage
Laws determine the required legal amount of child support for each state and for each parent. Lawyers will take into consideration:
- The income of the parent providing primary care, and their ability to cover the aforementioned costs for raising the child,
- The total financial costs of raising the child, and
- The amount of additional support necessary in order for the child to maintain a decent standard of living.
For example: Two parents divorce. The mother who keeps sole custody of the child makes $1,500 per month and the father makes $3,600 per month. Their child has a unique set of allergies that require regular medical care. Their child also participates in summer camps. The courts might decide that the father must pay $600 per month in child support to cover these medical and extracurricular costs. However, if the roles are reversed and the father has sole custody of the child, the mother will likely pay less in child support because a) she earns less and b) there is less need for this additional payment because of how effectively the father can support the costs of raising the child.
Courts do not require the parent providing primary care to prove that the child support payments are going towards the costs determined by the court, such as child care or the child’s basic necessities. Courts assume that since this parent is in charge of raising the child, the money is going toward raising the child. If it is obvious that the needs of the child are still not being met, despite child support being paid, then the court will step in to ensure that the child’s needs are being met.
If the child’s or parents’ circumstances change, the parents can ask the court for a change to the child support.
For example: If two parents divorce, and the mother is not working because the father wanted to be the sole provider, then the court might decide the father must provide a significant amount of child support while the mother searches for a job.
If the child’s mother remarries to a man who makes double what the father of the child makes, and the stepfather wishes to file for adoption of the child, then the circumstances have changed and the courts may adjust the amount of child support that the biological father has to provide.
Child support payments are required in order to provide a child with the same opportunities as in the scenario where they are being raised in a two-parent household. If you are considering child support claims for your children, consider reaching out to an attorney in family law who can help you review the circumstances and ensure your child receives adequate support from both parents.