In 2015, the average amount of child support due from a paying parent was $5,760 annually. For both of the parents, the check is a very significant item in their financial lives. Naturally, each will have questions about this payment since it takes on great importance.
As a family law attorney, we are often approached by parents who are paying or receiving child support with questions about what the money is for and how it can be used. We often hear complaints from paying parents about how the other parent is living and apparently using the money. On the flip side, we also hear from parents who believe that the other parent should be paying more for certain expenses that they believe are not covered by child support.
First, allow us to explain what child support should generally be used for by the receiving parent. The uses include the following:
New Jersey guidelines specify what is covered by child support. However, the guidelines do not give the receiving parent the ultimate obligation to use child support checks only on things that are listed as allowable. The check goes into that parent’s bank account each month, and there is no way to prove which money they are spending on what.
This question also comes into play in several ways when considering a child support modification or other issues of what things the other parent needs to pay for besides child support. Parents may say that the child support that they pay should be used for certain additional expenses. They might also say that the other parent should receive less child support because they have more than enough and are spending it on nonessential items.
The first question is what happens when there are extraordinary expenses connected with the child. These expenses can include things such as orthodontia or other special medical expenses. The paying parent will usually take the position that child support should be used for these expenses, and they would not need to pay extra for other things. The parent receiving child support would claim that the other parent still needs to pay for the additional expenses.
The answer in this dispute would depend on what the extraordinary expense is. If it falls into a court-recognized special expense, the paying parent would need to contribute for their proportional share of the expense. The other parent could use child support to cover their own share of the expenses. It is completely up to them what they choose to do with the money.
There are a number of things that are not covered by child support. For example, if there is work-related childcare, the child support payment does not cover this. Other recurring medical expenses may also not be covered. Conversely, expenses necessary to further the child’s best interest would be permissible uses. Extracurricular activities, lessons, tutors are also added to the basic child support amount. A divorce attorney can help you figure out what expenses are covered.
We often hear from parents that they believe the other parent is misusing the child support check. The argument is that the receiving parent is living too nice of a life and using child support payments for personal expenses such as vacations, clothing, and personal care. The parent feels that they are paying too much because they believe that not everything is going toward the child. Given how child support is calculated and paid, this is a difficult argument to make, and it may not be successful in persuading the court to lower child support payments.
Child support is calculated using child support guidelines. These guidelines determine what one parent will ultimately need to pay. The court will take each parent’s income and add them together. Then, the judge will find the corresponding entry on the guidelines to find the base child support amount. Using a percentage of income approach, the court will determine how much each parent needs to pay before adjusting the payment to account for things that the parent is already paying for, such as health insurance.
While there is room in this formula for judges to use discretion, and these guidelines are only a rebuttable presumption, the truth is that it rarely happens. Unless a parent can make a compelling argument that the guidelines should not be strictly applied, the court usually sides with them because using these rules is easier. The guidelines are a ready-made formula that shows how much should be devoted to raising the child based on the two parents’ income.
In reality, while child support should be spent on raising the child, a family lawyer will tell you that a court is not going to want to get into the weeds of getting an exact accounting for one parent of how they spend each penny. At the same time, the receiving parent also does not have to account to the other parent how they spent the money.
Unless the paying parent has some very compelling evidence that the amount of child support is excessive compared to the actual expenses for the children, chances are that there is not much that they can do about it.
Paying parents simply send over a lump sum each month, and the receiving parent should use it on the children. Especially when the child support check is deposited into the parent’s account, there is little way to prove that they used child support money for personal expenses. A divorce attorney will tell you that deviation from the guidelines is rare, but certainly can occur if the facts warrant it.
However, it is theoretically possible to work with a divorce lawyer to obtain a child support modification based on the circumstances. If the other parent seems to be spending too much money, it could be that their income has actually increased. Then, the paying parent may work with a family law attorney to try to reduce the amount of child support that they pay based on the fact that the receiving parent should bear a higher percentage of the child-rearing expenses. However, modification is a two-way street, and the receiving parent can also seek more money if they think that the other parent has a higher income.
For help with child support issues, including the initial award and any modifications, contact one of the family lawyers at the New Jersey divorce law firm of Lawrence Law at (908) 645-1000 today. Our divorce lawyers can answer all of your questions about child support laws and how any other expenses would be treated.
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