The term child support refers to the periodic support payment that is typically ordered when two parents are no longer living together, or are going through the separation or divorce process. These support payments are generally made once per month by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent in order to help provide for the financial needs of their shared child. Raising a child is expensive, and it is in the child’s best interest to receive financial support from both parents. 

Child support is intended to help cover the costs of raising the child; child support payments are for the benefit of the child, not the benefit of the parent receiving the payments. These payments are court ordered and are sometimes ordered in situations where a parent does not have any contact with their child.

A child support order is generally part of a divorce decree, and contains information regarding how much child support is to be paid, when the payments are to be paid, and how often the payments are to be made. Either parent may be required to make the child support payments, as the payments are to be made from the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent, and either parent may occupy either role.

It is important to note that there is no standard amount when it comes to calculating child support, nor is there a standard calculation. Child support laws and guidelines vary from state to state, and there is no federal guideline in awarding support. As such, each state considers the following factors when determining how much child support to order:

  • The specific needs of the child, including their healthcare needs, education expenses, daycare costs, and any special needs that that specific child may have;
  • Gross monthly income of each parent;
  • Age and status of the child;
  • The amount of children needing support; and
  • The child’s standard of living prior to the divorce.

What Is and Is Not Covered by Child Support?

As previously mentioned, child support payments are intended to benefit the child, not the parent. Child support is intended to cover basic living expenses that are necessary and reasonable for the child’s upbringing. Proof of need may be required for certain expenses in certain states. Some examples of expenses covered by child support include:

  • Food;
  • Housing;
  • Clothing;
  • Health and medical care;
  • Educational expenses; and
  • Some extracurricular expenses, such as after school programs or sports.

There are some expenses that are considered to be gray areas in terms of necessary child support. Some examples of this include:

  • Cosmetic medical procedures, whether or not orthodontic braces are considered to be cosmetic varies;
  • Tuition at a private school; and
  • Payment for college expenses.

For these gray areas, each court will make an individual decision as to whether those certain expenses should be factored into child support payments. One judge may rule that additional child support should be awarded for college expenses, whereas another may rule otherwise depending on the facts, such as if the child has received any support from scholarships. Additionally, the cost of living will influence child support payments, as the cost of living varies greatly between different regions.

There are some expenses that absolutely should not be covered by child support payments. Some examples of these include:

  • Anything that is for the benefit of the parent and not the child;
  • Luxury items;
  • Extensive out of town vacations; or
  • Illegal activities such as supporting gambling habits.

If you have any questions regarding child support, or if there are any changes, you should submit them to the court presiding over your case. From there, the judge will conduct an analysis in order to determine whether the requests involved valid uses of the child support payments.

How Might Child Support Orders Be Enforced?

For the child’s best interests and wellbeing, it is imperative that the child support order be followed and enforced. The support order should be followed exactly by all parties involved, as failing to do so not only hurts the child, but could result in legal consequences. If your child support order is being violated, your local district attorney may serve papers to the violating parent that requires them to pay what they owe.

If the parent still refuses to make their payments, certain actions may be taken in order to compel payment. These actions could include:

  • Seizing tax funds;
  • Garnishing wages;
  • Property liens; or
  • Revoking driver’s licenses and passports.

Courts may also hold the violating parent in contempt of court. This could require that they pay additional attorney’s fees, as well as court costs.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Child Support Coverage?

It is important that all issues regarding child support payments be handled properly and promptly. This is because it is in the child’s best interest that issues surrounding child support be quickly addressed and resolved. 

As such, you should consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable child support attorney if you need help with any child support questions or issues. An experienced family law attorney in your area can provide you with your state’s specific laws and requirements, as well as represent you in court as needed.