What Are Child Support Payments Supposed to Cover?

What Are Child Support Payments Supposed to Cover?Whether you pay or receive child support, that monthly payment is financially important to everyone in your family. On average, according to the United States government, people pay around $5,760 per year in child support. When going through a divorce or split and determining child support, both parents should have a good understanding about how child support in Maryland works, and how you can (and cannot) use those funds.

What are the child support guidelines?

The state of Maryland uses carefully-determined guidelines to calculate child support, based on factors including income and child care expenses. According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census:

  • $33.7 billion dollars in child support was owed during the year 2015
  • The average amount of child support due was $5,760 per year; less than $500 per month

However, “on average, custodial single parents who receive child support get about $287 per month to help with food, shelter, clothing, medical costs, education, and incidentals.”

Note that in cases where each parent earns more than $15,000 a month, or if you have a child with special needs, the court can make exceptions to the guidelines.

What are the proper uses for child support?

Our attorneys often field questions from parents about child support. One parent may believe they are not being provided enough support for the child’s needs. Or, a parent may believe their co-parent is spending their child support money inappropriately. Following are the general uses for child support in Maryland:

  • Clothing, which can include school uniforms, regular clothes, and diapers
  • Food, a basic need, including school lunches
  • Shelter, the cost of housing
  • Education, including fees and expenses for extracurricular activities, class trips, and special events
  • Entertainment, like going to the movies or other types of social activities
  • Transportation, including public transportation expenses and getting kids back and forth from appointments

Understand that child support is designed to maintain a child’s standard of living after a divorce. However, the parent receiving the child support has the ultimate discretion on how to use these funds. As such, there may be times where parents disagree on exactly what child support covers.

Claiming “extraordinary expenses”

A parent may claim other expenses, generally called “extraordinary expenses,” that are not covered by basic child support. Extraordinary expenses that might not be covered by your original child support agreement could include things like orthodontia, voluntary surgeries, or unexpected medical expenses. Co-parents may find themselves at odds, where the paying parent claims that these expenses should be covered under the original child support, and the receiving parent claims they should receive extra support for extraordinary expenses.

In cases like these, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible.

What options do I have if I believe my coparent is wasting child support?

Fewer than you may think.

The truth is that the parent who receives child support can spend it on new televisions, trips to exotic places, home improvements and credit card debts because all of those things, in some fashion, benefit the child. Trips and TVs are for fun and learning, and reduced credit card debt for a parent may mean better financial opportunities (regarding loans, purchases, or even job offers) that will directly and indirectly affect the child. Home improvements – especially things like new windows or upgraded electricity – make the home safer for the child, too.

However, if your ex is neglecting your child, then you have a real claim to modify your support order (and your custody order, too). Neglect can come in many forms, including:

  • Your child’s clothing being consistently dirty, damaged, or ill-fitting;
  • Your child lacks access to basic hygiene products, like toothpaste, soap, or running water;
  • Your child is skipping meals because there’s no food in the home; and/or
  • Your child is missing school because of constant, untreated illnesses, or because your coparent is either refusing to let them go or is constantly taking vacations.

The court will only want to hear from you about how your coparent spends child support if it appears your child is suffering from neglect. If you feel your child is not receiving the care they need, then it may be time to explore your legal options.

Do parents have to prove how they spend their MD child support?

No, they do not. Some states do have the discretion to order the custodial parent to account for how they spend child support funds. Other states require a custodial parent to show a detailed report of spending if the non-custodial parent can show evidence of misappropriation. However, Maryland is not one of these states. This can understandably cause some consternation with the parent paying child support if they believe the other parent is not using the money appropriately.

Remember! Even if you think your ex is misusing child support funds, do not withhold payments. Misappropriation of child support payments is serious, but refusal to pay child support is even worse. Do not take matters into your own hands. Instead, document everything you can, continue paying in good faith, and consult with an attorney to find out what to do next.

The Bethesda family attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. can help when you have questions about child support, child custody, or any issues surrounding divorce. We work for the best interests of your child and your family. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys by calling 443-812-1435 or reaching out to us through our contact form today. We maintain offices in Bethesda, Fulton, Columbia, and Rockville.