What is Child Support Supposed to Cover?

by Annette Burns on March 21, 2018

Lawyers are commonly asked what the child support paid from one parent to the other is supposed to cover?  If Mother pays child support, the children should bring all their clothes, shoes and underwear when they stay at her home, right?   If Mother is receiving child support, shouldn’t she have to pay for 100% of the children’s lunch accounts and school supplies?   [Hint:  the answer to both those questions is “No”.]  The problem with answering the overall question “What is Child Support Supposed to Cover?” is that in Arizona, there is no definite answer.    Reasonable minds can differ on who should be paying some of the children’s expenses.

The Child Support Guidelines provide an “Adjustment for Costs Associated With Parenting Time” (Section 11 of the Guidelines).   The Guidelines recognize “When parenting time is exercised by the noncustodial parent, a portion of the costs for the children normally expended by the custodial parent shifts to the noncustodial parent.   Accordingly . . . . an adjustment shall be made to [the paying] parent’s proportionate share of the Total Child Support Obligation.     As the result of this Section, the parent who is paying child support has gotten a deduction of some dollar amount, in recognition that he will be paying some costs for the children while they are with him.   This means that in addition to paying child support, the Payor also pays some expenses for the children directly.

The list below is one person’s (my) idea of what the child support payment should cover (and conversely, what the paying parent should be paying directly for the children during his or her OWN parenting time).  The list is a suggestion of what parents might expect to pay from child support which is received, and what they might expect to pay on their own, even if they pay child support to the other.    Subsection C below necessarily includes items which the parents should discuss, as those items might be optional and one should not expect that the other parent will automatically pay those things from child support.   There is an argument that those items listed in Subsection C may not be shared by the parents at all, but are paid only by the parent who wants the children to have those things.

A.   Things the child support recipient (Payee) should pay for the child when the Payee has the child.   And, during the Payor’s parenting time, Payor should expect to pay these expenses for the child directly, in addition to paying the child support amount:

  1. Child support is likely intended to cover the child’s portion of expenses like housing and shelter. This could be the cost of maintaining (at very low income levels) basic shelter; or at higher income levels, the incremental cost of additional bedrooms and bathrooms and associated furniture needed to house more than just the parent.
  2. The child’s portion of housing expenses like utilities, including the incremental cost of additional electric, water and other utility use over and above the cost which one parent would incur on his or her own.
  3. The child’s portion of food and household supplies, including the incremental cost of those items over and above the cost which one parent would incur on his or her own.
  4. The child’s clothing, including normal outerwear (coats, jackets, gloves) and regular (non-specialty and non sports-related) shoes.
  5. School lunch costs, and the costs of after-school snacks.
  6. School uniforms.
  7. Transportation necessary to get the child to school and activities.
  8. Over the counter medications and first aid supplies.
  9. Allowances, at the parent’s discretion.
  10. Basic school supplies to allow the child to do homework.
  11. Basic child entertainment expenses.
  12. Incidental fees and costs at school, such as purchase of books (minimal amounts), school fees, field trip fees, and incidentals at school (such as school photos or yearbooks).
  13. Babysitting or other child care necessary for a parent’s personal reasons (not by reason of employment outside the home).

B.    Basic child support likely does not cover the following expenses:

  1. The cost of specialized clothing, shoes or equipment necessitated by medical conditions or involvement in sports.
  2. Specialized equipment or supplies required by a school, including a computer or iPad.
  3. Prescription medications and other reasonable and necessary medical, dental, optical, orthodontia and similar costs incurred with a qualified medical provider.   (This is Guideline 9A)
  4. Health insurance.  (This is Guideline 9A)
  5. Tuition and other fees related to getting college credits while in high school.   [This is Guideline 9B(2) or (3)].    (There’s probably also an argument that this category belongs under Subsection C as entirely discretionary.)
  6. Child care costs for a parent to be employed outside the home.  [This is Guideline 9B(1)]
  7. Summer camp expense (similar to child care costs)
  8. Tutoring recommended by a school  [This is arguably either Guideline 9B(2) or (3)]

C.    What is discretionary by each parent, or what should be covered by specific court orders:

  1. Child’s cell phone and other electronics
  2. A car for the child
  3. Child’s car insurance
  4. Cost of registration and participation in sports and other extracurricular activities, music and other lessons.
  5. Travel expenses related to sports and other extracurricular activities
  6. Vacation costs
  7. Enrichment activities
  8. Tutoring (not recommended by a school)

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