What Does Child Support Cover?

Divorced parents don’t always agree on what expenses should be covered by child support and we often get asked this question “Just what does child support cover?”

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

There is the misconception that child support payments are meant to cover all the expenses for a child. However, the base amount of child support is just meant to cover the basic expenses of raising a child. This includes food, clothing and housing. 

Divorce laws recognize that both parents are financially responsible for supporting their child, regardless of their relationship status. Therefore, the expense of raising a child will be split between the parents when they divorce. The noncustodial parent pays his or her portion of raising their child in the form of child support.

Child support payments help the custodial parent pay the rent or mortgage, buy groceries and snacks, pay for vehicle expenses and more. But it’s important to note that the parent receiving the child support payments doesn’t have to provide an accounting of what the money was used for. It is at his or her discretion how the funds will be used.

Each state has established child support guidelines concerning what is covered by child support and how child support will be calculated. Many states also require parents to maintain health insurance coverage for their children. Which parent will be responsible for the coverage is often determined by who has the better coverage.

Additional Child Support Expenses

Beyond the basic child support amount, some states have statutes that address how extra expenses will be covered and split between the parents. These extra expenses may include things such as:

It's a good idea to review your state's child support guidelines or consult with a lawyer in your area to see how child support is addressed in your state.

What Does Child Support Cover - Your Questions Answered

Questions about what basic child support covers usually arise when unexpected expenses come up. Our legal advisor has answered the most common questions about what expenses are covered by a basic child support order below:

What is child support supposed to be used for?

Erica's Question: What expenses exactly does child support cover? I believe that child support goes towards a roof over the child's head, clothes on her back, and food in her mouth. Is this wrong, or should the child get the child support from the non-custodial parent?

Brette's Answer: Child support is paid to the custodial parent and does not directly go to the child. There are no specifics about what child support covers. The parent who receives it is not accountable for how the money is used. I'm not sure I understand your last question. The non-custodial parent is the one who pays the child support.

What does child support cover and what doesn't it cover?

Question: I currently pay $3,000/month in child support for my 3 kids. My ex and I still argue over every expense for the children. I believe haircuts, bike repairs, school clothes and my daughter learners permit (just to name a few) are covered under child support. My ex believes all expenses for the children are covered under the 85/15 pro-rata agreement we have in place for health care and extracurricular activities. What does child support cover? What does it not cover? If I could get a straight answer, the arguing would stop. How can I be forced to pay $3k/month, and still be responsible to pay 85% of all other expenses?

Brette's Answer: Generally if a parent pays child support he or she is not responsible for other expenses unless the order or the state law specifies that he or she is responsible for other expenses. If your order says you are to split medical expenses, then you split those. If your state mandates that you share school expenses, then you share those. It is not nebulous at all and you must determine exactly what your order says and what your state law is.

What if the support isn't used for the child's needs?

Suzy's Question: The child support money we send is not being spent to meet the child's needs. We already send additional allowance money to her, and we already pay for her health insurance and out of pocket medical expenses, extra-curricular and summer camps separately. The child support is $1000/month but her custodial parent claims she needs us to buy her clothes, pay for school expenses, etc. How can we be sure the child's needs are met without going broke?

Brette's Answer: I assume your husband is the non-custodial parent in this situation. Child support can be used the parent receiving it in any way. It is meant to increase the household income and does not have to be used directly for items for the child. Unless your child support directs you to pay for anything else, you do not have to. I understand however that it is hard to say no if you believe the child really is in need. The best advice I can give you is to pay the child support and then if you want to spend extra money, do so directly on the child yourself. Take her shopping and buy her clothing to take home. Don't give extra money to the other parent. Good luck.

Does child support cover school lunches and other expenses?

Nikki's Question: Since we have joint physical custody, is he responsible for paying for 1/2 of the children's lunches during school hours? And what about clothes, cell phones, cars for them, and auto insurance for the kids? He says the child support covers that.

Brette's Answer: Unless specifically stated, child support does not include additional expenses. You can ask to modify your order to include certain shared expenses. 

Does he have to pay child support if he pays for everything else?

April's Question: Should the father have to pay child support if he buys all of the needed items (clothes, school supplies, etc.) for his two children? He also pays the mortgage where the mother lives and car payments for the mother’s car.

Brette's Answer: Child support is determined by the court based on the parents' incomes. Child support is generally meant to provide funds to provide for the child. Paying for a mortgage payment or car payment is usually a separate issue that has to do with the property settlement. Some states require parents to also share school or medical expenses in addition to child support payments. 

Can I do anything if my ex spends the child support on himself?

Stephanie's Question: I pay support on my son to his father. I just found out from our 17 year old son that his dad spends the money on himself and none of it goes to our son. How do I go about fixing this problem?

Brette's Answer: You can't. Support does not have to be used by the parent for anything in particular. It is meant to improve the general quality of life of the child.

Who is responsible for clothing at their Dad's house?

Diane's Question: The father of my 2 girls pays child support. He tells me it is my responsibility to pay for clothing for them needed at his house. Is this true? I feel it should be equally shared, just like sports, medical, etc. It is the one thing we did not specify in our agreement.

Brette's Answer: Generally the spouse paying child support is not required to pay for clothing unless it is specifically specified in the order. Otherwise it is your responsibility. You can talk to your attorney about getting a modification to include that.

Can he deduct clothing expenses from the child support?

Missy's Question: My ex is beginning to deduct clothes, etc. that he purchases for the children while they are visiting with him, from medical expenses he is ordered to pay and/or child support.  I have not asked him to purchase clothes for them but he is doing this to try and hurt me financially.

Brette's Answer: Unless your order specifies he can do this, he's in violation and you can go to court for violation and enforcement proceedings.

Does child support cover expenses at the non-custodial parent's house?

Jason's Question: I am the non-custodial parent paying child support for a 7 month old. Do I have to buy extra baby formula for my house or should the child support cover those expenses?

Brette's Answer: While this site is generally only for questions from women, I thought your question would be of answer to our readers. Child support is paid to the other parent to assist with the expenses that parent incurs. When your child is with you, you are responsible for the costs of feeding and caring for that child. Some things should travel with the child - clothing, favorite toys, medicine and other essentials. You are responsible for planning for and providing for needs that happen while in your care. Good luck.

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