Women and Child holding dollar note, child support concept

What Expenses Does Child Support Cover?

Law Office of Shelly Jean John May 21, 2024

Navigating single parenting is challenging, and the financial stress of supporting your children can feel overwhelming. One of the most common concerns I hear from clients is about child support—specifically, what exactly does that support cover? It's a question that weighs heavily on the minds of many single parents, both those who receive and those who pay child support.

My name is Shelly Jean John, and, as a family law attorney in Southern California, I'm here to shed light on this topic in hopes of providing some clarity and peace of mind.  

What Is Child Support & What Expenses Does It Cover?

Child support is designed to guarantee that your children receive the consistent financial support they need, promoting their well-being and proper upbringing regardless of the marital status of the parents. In California, child support obligations, calculations, and enforcement are governed by specific laws and regulations to provide the child with fairness and adequacy of support.  

Child support is intended to cover a wide range of expenses related to raising a child. The primary goal is to meet the child's basic needs, mirroring as closely as possible the standard of living they would have enjoyed had their parents remained together.  

Here are some of the areas that child support payments typically cover: 

Basic Needs 

Basic necessities covered by child support include food, clothing, and shelter for your child. This category of expenses goes toward providing the child with nutritious meals, appropriate clothing for different seasons and occasions, and a safe place to live. Specific examples of expenses that would be covered include:  

  • Housing: Child support can go toward rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, and utilities.  

  • Food: Child support can help cover groceries and nutritional needs.  

  • Clothing: Child support may also cover basic clothing and footwear suitable for the child's age and needs.  

Medical Care 

Child support often goes towards health insurance premiums or out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by insurance, such as co-pays, dental care, and eyeglasses.    

  • Health Insurance: Premiums for health insurance coverage, usually provided by the parent with better benefits through employment, may be covered by child support.  

  • Out-of-pocket Costs: Child support may also be used for uncovered medical, dental, and vision expenses, including copays, deductibles, and orthodontics.  

Education Fees 

While public schooling is free, there are still various costs associated with education that child support may cover, including school uniforms, textbooks, and other supplies. In some cases, it might also contribute to private school tuition if the parents agree that's in the child's best interest. 

  • School Supplies: Child support can help pay for books, supplies, uniforms, and any other school-related materials.   

  • Tuition Fees: For private schooling or special educational needs not covered by the public education system, child support can support tuition or other educational fees.  

Childcare Costs    

Many single parents rely on childcare to work or pursue education. Child support can help pay for daycare, babysitters, and before or after-school programs. Any childcare costs incurred due to employment, education, or training of the custodial parent can be covered by child support.  

Extracurricular Activities    

The benefits of extracurricular activities are vast, contributing to a child's social, emotional, and physical development. Child support can help cover the costs of sports, music lessons, and other activities.    

What Child Support Doesn't Cover 

It's equally important to understand what child support doesn't cover. Child support is not intended for expenses unrelated to the child's direct needs. For instance, it shouldn't be used for the custodial parent's personal expenses, such as entertainment, vacations, or a new car, unless it directly benefits the child's welfare. 

Calculation of Child Support in California 

Child support calculations consider both parents' incomes, the number of children, and the custody arrangement. Some jurisdictions use a standard percentage of the non-custodial parent's income, adjusting for the number of children. Others use more complex formulas that factor in both parents' incomes, health insurance costs, daycare expenses, and other child-related expenses.  

California uses a statewide formula (often referred to as the "guideline calculation") for determining child support, considering:   

  • Both parents' net disposable incomes  

  • Amount of time each parent spends with the child  

  • Tax liabilities  

  • Health insurance expenses  

  • Other children the parents have a duty to support  

This formula results in a child support amount that aims to maintain the child's standard of living in a way that reflects what it would have been if the family had remained intact. However, courts do have the discretion to deviate from the guideline calculation in exceptional cases where the guideline would be unjust or inappropriate, considering the child's best interests.  

Modifying Child Support   

Either parent can request a modification of the child support amount due to changed circumstances, such as:    

  • Significant changes in either parent's income  

  • Changes in custody or the time-sharing arrangement  

  • Changes in the child's needs, such as healthcare or education expenses  

To modify child support, the requesting parent must file a motion with the court, providing evidence of the changed circumstances necessitating the modification.   

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support Expenses

What happens if payments are missed or can't be made?    

When payments are missed, the owing parent accrues arrears that must be paid back. If a parent faces financial hardship and can't make payments, it's crucial to seek a court modification of the child support order as soon as possible. Simply not paying can lead to severe penalties.

If a parent fails to pay child support, enforcement measures can include wage garnishment, interception of tax refunds, suspension of driver's and professional licenses, and even jail time. Courts can adjust payments to accommodate changes in financial circumstances but require official documentation and evidence of the change.  

When do child support obligations end?   

Child support obligations end when a child turns 18, although it can extend to 19 or when the child graduates from high school if they turn 18 first. It may end earlier if the child becomes emancipated, joins the military, or gets married. Support can also continue beyond the age of 18 or be modified to support adult children’s higher education or the needs of adult children with disabilities.  

What can I do if I suspect my ex is misusing child support money? 

If you're concerned that child support payments are not being used as intended, it's crucial to address this issue legally and formally. Document your concerns and seek legal advice. Remember, the court's primary interest is the child's well-being, and they can review expenditures if necessary. 

Navigating child support in California requires careful attention to legal requirements and the child's specific needs. Whether dealing with the calculation of support, enforcement of payment, or modification of the order, it's advisable to seek legal guidance to ensure that the child's best interests are fully protected and met. 

The Importance of Legal Support with Child Support

Whether you're on the receiving end and concerned about meeting your child's needs or you're making payments and want to ensure they're used appropriately, having legal support can make all the difference. 

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, serving clients throughout San Bernardino County and Riverside County in Southern California, I'm dedicated to helping you understand your rights and responsibilities regarding child support. I bring over two decades of experience in family law to the table, offering compassionate, personalized legal services tailored to your unique situation. 

Reach Out to Attorney Shelly Jean John for a Consultation

If you have questions about child support expenses or any other family law matter, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. My goal is to empower you with knowledge and support, helping you and your family move forward with confidence and peace.

Contact the Law Office of Shelly Jean John today, and together, we can address your child support concerns and find strategic solutions that protect the best interests of you and your child.