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What Does Child Support Cover, Anyway?

In R.I., child support is carefully modulated by the General Assembly to help with the minor child’s food, clothing, and shelter.  Food.  Clothing.  Shelter.  Therefore, if a non-custodial parent pays his (let’s say his for this hypothetical) child support consistently, and in full, it is generally my counsel that he need not then also pay for the child’s expenses within those categories (notably, school uniforms, school lunches, etc.) if he cannot reasonably afford to do so, unless a prior Order specifically says that both parents will / must also cover those same costs.

Look at it this way (the judge does): failing / refusing to pay your child support is denying your child his or her food, clothing, shelter.  Good luck with that argument!

Many non-custodial parents (sticking with his) complain that his child support is too high while the custodial parents argue it is much too little given the modern costs of raising a child, and should be expanded to include the child’s other necessary expenses (uninsured health care costs and camps to cite a few examples).  These costs are separate from child support, and any Order regarding minor children must include language stating that both parents will contribute to the child’s uninsured / underinsured medical, dental, and other like care costs as well as his or her reasonably agreed-upon extracurricular activity expenses and daycare / babysitting / camp costs.

Another common refrain from the non-custodial parent is that their child support, “is not going to the child”.  I have had clients complain that the child support they pay is going to fund the other parent’s: shoe collection (no, it isn’t), prescription drug addiction (concerning) new relationship, vacations, bar tab, and legal fees.  And, of course, that is a natural concern in the social media age.  If Mr. Smith pays child support of $188.00 per week, every week, which represents 23% of his gross income, and this money is deposited into Mrs. Smith’s bank account along with, say, her own wages and the income of her new boyfriend who recently moved in, then it is all but impossible to determine exactly how Mr. Smith’s child support is being used.  All money is green, so to speak.  Was Mrs. Smith’s 2018 vacation to Bali paid for by Mr. Smith’s crippling child support payments (and Mr. Smith hasn’t been on vacation himself in twelve years he will make sure you understand), or was it the new boyfriend’s hedge fund bonus?  Or something else entirely?  And why, Mr. Smith might ask, is he being forced to pay for his ex-wife’s vacations with her new fling – what the hell kind of attorney are you, anyway?

In arguments like these I like to remind my very angry client (if I have the party paying the support) that while this is difficult to understand, at least the child got to go to Bali.  And if Mr. Smith didn’t take the child to Bali?  Well then, that, like so much else, is entirely the attorney’s fault.

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