What Does Child Support Cover?
There is a growing misconception among some that child support should only cover a child’s bare necessities, such as food and clothing. In truth, child support is meant to cover a broad range of expenses, which may include school fees, entertainment, medical, and extracurricular activities, among other things.
To help clarify this issue, all 50 states have established child support guidelines to determine the amount of child support a parent may be required to pay. As such, courts take into consideration a variety of factors, such as 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 at all possible.
Even so, courts do not require parents to prove the child support payments they receive go toward specific activities, except, for example, 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 will not monitor the spending habits of a custodial parent.
Because child support laws vary greatly among the states, it is important to check the child support guidelines in your state to determine how support may be calculated in your particular case
Below is a listing of what child support may be used for:
В Basic Necessities — Food, Clothing, Shelter
Obviously, 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 may be used to pay for the child’s related shelter costs, such as mortgage or rent, lighting, telephone, and utility bills.
Children need basic 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.
В Uninsured Medical Expenses
Child support may be used to pay for uninsured or “extraordinary” medical expenses. “Extraordinary” medical expenses may include 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). Most states require both parents to split the cost of additional medical care (depending on their state’s guidelines).
В 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 needed to support school-aged children. Therefore, 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, if necessary.
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. This may include the cost of daycare services, babysitters, nannies, or other childcare expenses and fees. This may also include the cost of child care during summer months, spring break, and some holidays.
Since children need to get from one place to another safely, child support may be used to pay for basic transportation and travel cost. This may include 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.
Child support may also be used for travel cost — especially when a child is traveling to visit the noncustodial parent in another area, for instance.
Many courts hold that a child is entitled to basic entertainment, which may include access to computers, television programs, games, and the Internet, among other things. This may also include visits to a movie theatre, amusement parks, camping trips, and other outings. Therefore, child support may be used for a child’s age-appropriate entertainment desires, as agreed upon between the parents.
В Extracurricular Activities — Summer Camps, Sports Activities and More
Child support may be used to pay for a child’s extracurricular activities — typically those that fall outside of regular school hours. This may include after-school programs/classes, summer camp, sports activities, clubs (for example, Girl Scouts), and other non-school related activities.
В 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 should not 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 has not yet graduated.
Courts will factor the essential financial and support needs of a child, and reflect those needs in a child support order. If a child’s needs change, or if there is a significant change in a parent’s circumstances, however, it may be necessary for a parent to file for a modification of existing child support, or contact a child support lawyer in their area.
Child Support Questions? Get Legal Help Today
When you’re caring for a child,В expenses can add up. Each parent has an obligation to provide financial support for the child including food, shelter, and medical care. 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 all the financial support allowed under the law. Learn more by contacting an experienced family law attorney in your area today.
Does Child Support Include Automobile Insurance For My Child?
As a child support lawyer, I have come across this issue in many cases as car insurance is expensive here in New Jersey, especially for young drivers. In fact, up until recently, the law was not clear as to whether a divorced (or single) parent would be deemed responsible to contribute to their children’s car insurance. Therefore, myself and the other attorney in a divorce or child support case would negotiate the issue, but at the end of the day the parents had to voluntarily agree to make automobile insurance payments on behalf of their unemancipated children. However, in light of a brand new case, the lawyers at my law firm shall now be advising folks that they are legally responsible and this amount can be included in New Jersey Child Support Guidelines.
In Fichter v. Fichter, the Honorable Judge Jones of the Superior Court of Ocean County, Family Part, reviewed whether car insurance for a minor child should be included in the child support payment or if there should be a separate obligation for it. In 2013, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines were modified by the State, to include new provisions having to do with the cost of car insurance. These new provisions, however, have only raised more questions about whether when a parent that is already paying child support, to a level sufficient to the guidelines, is also required to contribute to car insurance costs for an unemancipated newly licensed teenage child. There was no case law that answered this question when it presented itself in the Ocean County Family Part court, and the Honorable Judge Jones was left to tackle this issue of first impression. He held that Family Part courts, in their discretion, have the authority to increase or modify guideline-level child support on a fact specific basis, to cover for the extra cost of car insurance for a new teenage driver.
Thomas and Deidre Fichter were married in 1991 and divorced in 2011. In a settlement agreement, the parents mutually agreed to share legal custody of their children, with Deidre being designated as the parent of primary residence. According to the divorce settlement agreement, Thomas would pay Diedre $ 303 a week in child support. This amount was in accordance with New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines.
According to the settlement agreement, the parents also agreed that both of them would share the cost of their son’s car insurance. The at the time the settlement agreement was executed, the son was driving a used 2005 Volvo that was actually under Deidre’s name as a second car she got under the settlement agreement. She drove a 2010 Volvo herself. While the elder son’s car insurance was covered by the settlement agreement, the agreement was silent on where the funding for the younger daughter’s car insurance would come from.
When this issue arose, Megan, the daughter, had just turned seventeen, and like most seventeen year olds, had just gotten her driver’s license. Todd, the older son, was now emancipated. The 2005 Volvo he drove was still in Deidre’s name, and would now be available for Megan to drive. Due to Todd’s emancipation, Thomas’ child support obligation decreased from $ 303 every week to $ 213 every week.
Deidre went to the Superior Court of Ocean County, Family Part for an order directing Thomas to contribute towards the additional cost of Megan’s car insurance, in addition to the guideline-level child support he already paid. Megan’s car insurance would an extra $ 854 a year. According to Deidre, this price was both reasonable and affordable as both parents would contribute towards it.
The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are part of the New Jersey Court Rules. These same guidelines can be used as a rebuttable presumption to establish and modify child support obligations. The rebuttable presumption in this case means that an award based on the provisions of the guidelines is, generally, presumed to be a correct award of child support. That is, unless the opposing parent can prove the existences of circumstances that would make an award based on the guidelines inappropriate. This inquiry is fact-specific to every case.
On September 1, 2013, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines were amended after a detailed and comprehensive review by the Supreme Court Family Practice Committee. New provisions were included in the amendments that addressed expenses a parent may incur in giving a car to a new teenage driver. However, these new provisions were not clear whether the cost of insurance, was an appropriate additional expense to guideline-level support. While the report by the Supreme Court Family Practice Committee indicated that the Committee did in fact consider this question, it still did not clearly and conclusively answer the question. Judge Jones explained that because the amendments were still fairly new, and there was little to no case precedent on the issue, the court must address the issue by prioritizing logic, equity, and substance over form, while at the same time applying principles of fairness, reason, and commonsense, and must at all times further the best interests of the child.
According to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, the child support obligation of a parent of alternative residence, includes all expenses involved with owning a car, including monthly payments for cost, interest charges, motor oil and gas, insurance, repairs, and maintenance. Many who argue that the guidelines already include the cost of car insurance for a new teenage driver, point out that comment 8 includes the word, “insurance,” and thus a literal reading supports the argument at a parent of alternate residence should not contribute additional funds towards a child’s car insurance because, the court has already considered this cost and accounted for it in advance, in the guideline-level child support award. Furthermore, many proponents of this view argue that the word “insurance” includes both the parent’s cost of insurance, and also the additional costs for child once he or she becomes licensed. Judge Jones explained, however, that in reality this would result in the parent of primary residence receiving the same out of money before and after a child got a driver’s license.
Moreover, there are potential economic and financial fairness concerns with such an interpretation of the Child Support Guidelines, both to the child and the parent of primary residence. First, a logical and reasonable interpretation of, “expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary uses a child subject to the support order,” does not explicitly exclude car insurance. As no one can legally drive a car without insurance, additional insurance for a newly licensed driver, is an absolutely necessary cost related to operating a car, regardless of whether the teenager is driving his own car, or a family car used by other members of the household.
Furthermore, the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines do not explicitly address if “expenses” apply exclusively to costs related to a new car purchase or lease for the newly licensed driver, or whether, “expenses” also includes costs related to a car that one parent already owns, and makes available to the child, for his or her own primary use. Judge Jones, concluded that the second, broader interpretation is the most appropriate and reasonable. Public policy supports providing protection and support of the child’s best interest. In the alternative, even if one could technically interpret the Child Support Guideline-level support to include the insurance cost of a newly licensed driver, the same guidelines also allow Family Part courts to use their authority and discretion to deviate from the guidelines in an effort to come to a fair and just result. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are just that . . . merely guidelines, and are not set in stone. Family law judges may deviate from them on a cases by case basis, in the interest of fairness. The Family Part of Ocean County considered the totality of circumstances and found that the insurance policy, even though costly, was an affordable and reasonable expense to both parents, as each of them would contribute towards it. Applying the afore-mentioned legal principles, Judge Jones found that Deidre’s request that both parents share the costs of Megan’s car insurance was reasonable, logical and fair. Deidre’s intent was to protect the child’s best interest by providing her with car insurance, and therefore, appropriate and financially sound. Therefore, the court ordered the parent’s to split their daughter’s car insurance costs equally until such time that she become emancipated.
Please contact my office if you or a loved one faces a child support issue here in New Jersey.
What Child Support Does Not Cover
Nobody said that raising children was cheap. While we have child support in Texas specifically to help with raising children and addressing their financial needs, even maximum child support at times does not address the “extras” that many of my clients think of as the “essentials.” This is the case for many states across the country.
So, while the primary parent fights so hard to receive child support and to have the majority of possession time with his precious child, sometimes it feels like the parent who is paying child support gets away with a much better deal.
Just like the credit card commercial:
Prom dress? $200
Manicure for prom? $30
Daughter’s hairstylist for prom? $80
Dad telling teenage daughter that “her mother gets child support to pay for these things” and then refusing to pay?
We live in an age where children start with music classes at age three, little league baseball at five, and piano lessons at six. Consequently, it is hard to explain to my clients that if they want a better life of enrichment, attention and excellence for their kids, they need to pony up the cash to do it without help from the other parent. Even when this means that 100% of their child support is being used to pay for daycare expenses, child support often does not cover the “extras” that I outline below.
The following is a list of examples of the “extras” one might contemplate when negotiating a divorce decree to split with the other parent so that your children can have more opportunities. While courts will likely not mandate the parent paying child support to provide any of the below “extras,” when clients analyze the amount of child support that they may receive, I highly recommend contemplating what child support does NOT include (the following list is based on the Texas Family Code, but is likely very similar in your state).
For younger children:
- Afterschool care
- Nannies or babysitters
For school-age children, extracurricular activities including:
- School photos, yearbooks
- Registration, uniforms, equipment and fees of sports
- Select sports, traveling teams, club teams
- Private lessons, i.e., music, voice, dance, tennis
- Musical instruments rental or purchase fees
- Recital fees, costumes
- Enrichment camps
- Academic tutoring
Later in life high school and post-high school ventures:
- Your child’s first car; car insurance
- College funds
- Wedding funds
Even if your working spouse was providing for these things when you were married, they are not covered by child support in many states (including Texas, where I practice family law). This is often also the case in other states but you need to consult directly with an attorney licensed in your state to know for certain.
The moral of the story:
When budgeting for divorce and adapting your lifestyle from being married to being single, you need to think about what child support covers. And sometimes, you have to bite the bullet, pay for the things that your child needs to have an enriched life, and ignore the fact that the law only mandates a floor and not a ceiling when it comes to child support.
This post neither constitutes nor is intended to be legal advice. Please be advised that if you need legal counsel, you should consult an attorney regarding your individual situation.
Does a Parent Paying Child Support Pursuant to New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines Also Have to Pay for a Teen Driver’s Auto Insurance?
On October 21, 2015, the Hon. L.R. Jones, J.S.C., a family court judge in Ocean County issued an opinion that was approved for publication this week in the matter of Fichter-v-Fichter. Judge Jones addressed the question of whether a parent already paying child support pursuant to those Guidelines also has to pay an additional amount for child support of a new licensed unemancipated teenage driver.
In this case the parties divorced in 2011. They shared joint legal custody of a 17 year old son and 13 year old daughter, both of whom lived primarily with their mother. The child support guidelines worksheet was attached to their marital settlement agreement, which required the father to pay $303 per week in child support to the mother on behalf of the two children. The settlement agreement also stated that the parties would share in the cost of their son’s automobile insurance. Their son drove a 2005 used Volvo owned technically by the mother, who drove a newer Volvo. The parties’ agreement was silent on the payment of car insurance for the parties’ daughter at the time that she would become a licensed driver. After the son became emancipated, the father’s child support obligation was reduced to $213 per week. In this post-judgment application, the mother sought the father’s contribution to the daughter’s $854 annual automobile insurance to be paid in addition to his $213 per week child support obligation. In response to the mother’s application, the father did not agree or disagree to the request, did not pay anything additional towards the car insurance, and filed no reply to the application.
Judge Jones found that he could require an additional contribution to an unemancipated child’s automobile insurance to be paid in addition to child support awarded pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. He noted that the September, 2013 amendments to the Child Support Guidelines contained new language that addressed in general terms an add on expense for a parent supplying a child with a car, but the new language did not state whether the cost of car insurance was an appropriate add on to the child support guidelines support. The court examined the Supreme Court Practice Committee’s report which indicated that the Committee had discussed but not reached a conclusion about whether to distinguish the cost of insurance from the cost of the car itself. The judge thus noted the ambiguity of this new amendment to the Child Support Guidelines and the lack of legal precedence to interpret this language.
Judge Jones, therefore, indicated that he had to apply logic, fairness and common sense in applying this provision and, of course, reach a decision to further the best interest of the child at issue. He referred to comment 8 to the Child Support Guidelines which refers to consideration of: “All costs involved with owning or leasing an automobile including monthly installments toward principal cost, finance charges (interest), lease payments, gas and motor oil, insurance, maintenance and repairs.” Comment 8 also states that “the net outlay (purchase price minus the trade-in value) for a the purchase of a vehicle for the child is not included in the guidelines, nor are expenses associated with a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary use of the child subject to the support order.” Comment 21, however, states that “a motor vehicle purchased or leased for the intended primary use of a child subject to the support order” may be a factor warranting a support adjustment to the child support award. The Supreme Court Family Practice Committee added this provision to clarify that the Child Support Guidelines do not include expenses for a car intended for the primary use by the child. The Committee did not define what “expenses” were included and which were not.
Since Comment 8 contains the word insurance, a literal reading of the Guidelines would to the conclusion that the non-custodial parent has no obligation to contribute to a newly licensed child’s car insurance since it is already part of the Guidelines consideration. This would mean, however, that the custodial parent would inequitably not receive additional child support when a child becomes licensed to drive, which would leave the custodial parent solely to bear that additional insurance cost. The judge also saw no reason to have the cost of a vehicle considered an appropriate add on expense to child support, but not the insurance for the vehicle. Judge Jones further reasoned that not only did he have to examine the best interests of the child, but that the Child Support Guidelines allows a court reasonable discretion to deviate from the Guidelines to reach a just result. He reasoned that automobile insurance is necessary to protect a teenage driver’s health, safety an welfare, and it is also necessary to protect the public at large as an innocent person could be injured by an inexperienced teenage driver. Insurance for a teenage driver may be unaffordable to many custodial parents without contribution from the concustodial parent.
Judge Jones noted that the cost of the daughter’s insurance in this case was reasonable and affordable for a used ten year old vehicle provided to the child if both parents contribute equally.