What Does Child Support Cover?

There is a growing misconception among some critics that child support should only cover the essentials like food and clothing. In truth, child support coverage consists of a broad range of expenses, and can include the following:

  • Basic necessities;
  • Medical care;
  • Educational fees;
  • Childcare;
  • Transportation/travel;
  • Entertainment;
  • Extracurricular activities; and
  • College expenses.

Read on to learn more about common child support expenses that may be covered by a child support order to see whether they might apply to your situation.

Child Support Coverage: Typical Expenses

In this day and age, the costs of raising a child can run quite high, especially considering rising educational and health care costs, just to name a few factors. The list below addresses in greater detail some common expenses that might be included in a child support obligation. However, because child support laws vary greatly among the states, it's important to check the child support guidelines where you live to determine how your child support coverage will be determined.

Basic Necessities -- Food, Clothing, Shelter

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 coverage encompasses payments for the child's related shelter costs (mortgage/rent, lighting, telephone, and utility bills).

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. Some examples of "extraordinary" medical expenses are 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). Depending on the state guidelines, parents must split the cost of additional medical care.

Educational Fees (School Fees, Supplies, and Related Costs)

Education is not free, even if a child is attending a public school; there are several fees and costs needed to support school-aged children. Thus, 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.

Childcare

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 including daycare services, babysitters, nannies, or other childcare costs and fees. Child care during summer months, spring break, and some holidays can also be included in child care coverage.

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. 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 are covered. For instance, when a child is traveling to visit the noncustodial parent in another area.

Entertainment

Many courts hold that a child is entitled to basic entertainment, which includes access to computers, television programs, games, and the internet, as well as visits to movie theaters, amusement parks, camping trips, and other outings. Therefore, child support may be used for a child's age-appropriate entertainment desires, per the parents' agreement.

Extracurricular Activities -- Summer Camps, Sports Activities and More

Child support coverage incorporates a child's extracurricular activities -- typically those that fall outside of regular school hours, such as after-school programs/classes, summer camp, sports activities, clubs (for example, Girl Scouts), and other non-school related activities.

College Expenses

In some instances, child support may be used to pay for a child's college expenses. Many states reason that a child's education shouldn't 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 hasn't yet graduated.

What Does Child Support Cover: Additional Considerations

All states have established child support guidelines to determine the amount of child support that a parent may be required to pay. Courts consider a variety of factors including:

  • 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 possible).

Although courts don't require custodial parents to prove that the child support payments they receive go toward specific activities, there is an exception in cases where a child's basic needs are not being met. The assumption is that parents with physical custody of a child are paying for the necessary expenses to raise the child and, therefore, courts won't monitor the spending habits of a custodial parent.

In addition, where a child's needs change, or where there's a significant change in a parent's circumstances, such as the loss of a job, it may be necessary for a parent to file for a modification of existing child support. This process is made easier when a parent acts quickly to modify support after a change in circumstances.

Not Sure What Child Support Covers for Your Children? An Attorney Can Help

Each parent has an obligation to provide financial support for their child's food, shelter, and medical care, in addition to other expenses that child support coverage usually includes. If you're thinking of filing a child support claim, you should consider having an advocate on your side to make sure your child is getting the financial support that is allowed under the law. Learn more by contacting an experienced family law attorney in your area today.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified child support attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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