What Does Child Support Cover?

By Cindy Hill

Mother holding son

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Child support payments are a ubiquitous feature of divorce decrees for parents of minor children. Non-custodial parents often wonder what they're paying for when they write a check for child support each month. The primary purpose of child support is not to equalize the income of the two former spouses, but rather to provide the children with the same level of economic support they would have had if their parents had remained together.

Basic Needs

Child support payment amounts are set by guidelines established by the laws of each state. Basic child support, calculated based on the intersection of custody time and spousal income, is intended to cover only basic living expenses, such as clothing, shelter and food. Despite the increasing need for children to participate in extracurricular activities, team and social clubs to acquire the skills and character necessary to enter college and the workplace, basic child support awards are not designed to cover these expenses.

Additional Support

Courts in most states increase the basic child support obligation to include expenses that are increasingly becoming necessary to allow the custodial parent to work and to cover health care costs for the child. These increased orders may include payments for work-related daycare, health insurance premiums and uninsured medical expenses. These costs are calculated outside of the basic child support guideline calculations because the cost of daycare facilities and the necessary uninsured medical costs will vary widely from family to family, depending on location and circumstances.

Extraordinary Expenses

Entertainment expenses, including music lessons, summer camps, sports team fees and equipment, pets and school field trips, are not ordinarily included in the basic child support payment. Divorce courts may order that the non-custodial parent provide extra payments for these extraordinary expenses if the parties' resources allow the payments to be made. When the non-custodial parent has limited economic means, family law courts often hold that the custodial parent must make do with the basic child support payment to cover the child's extracurricular and personal growth activities.

Parenting Time

Parenting time, or custody, has a significant effect on the amount of the child support payment order. When non-custodial parents have considerable visitation time, they are also contributing to the child's shelter and food during these times, so this decreases child support obligations in most states. Other factors taken into consideration when calculating child support include whether the non-custodial parent is making child support payments for other children, or has additional minor children in his household.