What Does Child Support Cover?
In late May, the California court ordered actress Halle Berry to pay $16,000 a month in child support to the father of her daughter, Gabriel Aubrey. As if $16K isn’t enough, Halle is also required to provide $115,000 in retroactive support and $30,000 in attorney’s fees.
Even as an attorney, it’s a stretch to understand how $16,000 in monthly child support is necessary. However, without knowledge of little Nahla’s living situation, it’s difficult to come to any clear conclusions. In this post, I will give you insight as to how such a large sum of money might be spent each month on a child.
Arizona has detailed guidelines covering how an ultimate child support number is reached for a family. These guidelines contemplate the gross monthly incomes of the parents, the monthly cost of daycare and health insurance, as well as the time each parent exercises with the children. Other factors might become relevant to an individual family (like if the children attend a private school). The Arizona child support calculator, available online, incorporates the 2011 guidelines (the most recent guidelines) and can help you get a feel for what the monthly obligation in your case might be.
The primary question when considering whether something may be covered by child support is whether the cost is “reasonable and necessary” for the child.
Parents can pay for food and shelter with child support. Child support can be used towards clothes, as well. While these things may not be exciting, making sure the basic needs of a child are met is the most important aspect of child support.
$16,000 for basic needs is a lot of food and shelter; but in the case of Halle Berry and her daughter, it likely covers other things, as well. Let me explain.
Regardless of whether your child is in private or public school, you are going to incur some sort of education costs. Parents can pay for a child’s tuition, fees, and school supplies with child support. It is a good idea to maintain detailed records of each cost paid for with child support money, but it is especially true of education costs.
When children show talent or struggle in certain courses, things might change; child support can cover advanced courses and tutoring, as well. A word of caution: if you share legal decision-making with the other parent, before enrolling your child in private school, advanced courses and/or tutoring (which all come with a price tag), have a conversation with your ex about how these costs will be shared.
If you don’t have this conversation and take unilateral action, you could end up footing 100% of the bill.
Entertainment If not specifically addressed in the child support order, child support can be used for entertainment expenses. That’s right! Use the child support to keep your kids busy. Feel free to invest in games, movies, and internet access. Just don’t overdo it. Does your kid really need his own laser tag room?
Extracurricular Activities If a child finds joy from extracurricular activities, child support may cover the costs. If the child engaged in the activities prior to the divorce, then the Court can order the parents to split the costs of the activities. If you have a belief your child might enjoy an extracurricular skill or talent post-divorce, by all means encourage it.
However, if you want to enroll your child in an extra-curricular activity that costs money and you share joint custody, figure out how the cost is going to be split with your ex before enrolling the child. Failing to have this conversation could result in you picking up the whole bill.
Transportation The cost to transport children becomes more expensive the further parents live from one another. Luckily, child support can be used to pay for gas, car insurance, car payments, and public transportation costs. In the event one of the parents moves out of state, then a decision will need to be made as to who pays for the travel costs. If the child is below a certain age, one of the parents may need to travel with the child.
As you can expect, this gets very expensive quickly. In most cases, each parent is normally responsible for covering a portion of the transportation costs. If you and your ex can’t reach agreements about how long distance transportation costs will be split, the court will make that decision for you. Having said that, if you face the prospect of your ex leaving the state, a travel rewards card might be a good idea.
Child Care Child support can be used to pay for a babysitter or day care so the parents can work while exercising parenting time with the children. Be advised: there may still be provisions that place limitations on the extent of care that can be covered. Also, in Arizona, unless an agreement is made to the contrary, the child care costs are included in the calculation of child support according to the guidelines. In other words, if the parties agree, the cost of child care will necessarily be factored into the final child support number. With respect to this…don’t expect child support to cover a personal chef, as well as an in-home babysitter.
Courts may require the parent with the best (or only) insurance benefits to carry medical and dental insurance for a child. The Court could also require both parents to carry insurance. In case of emergency, any co-pays, deductibles, or out-of-pocket medical expenses can be paid with child support. However, keep in mind that as part of the child support guidelines, out of pocket expenses like co-pays and deductibles are often ordered split in proportion to income. There are certain statutory requirements that need to be met to receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, and if they want to, parties can agree to deviate and split these expenses in a different way than the guidelines dictate (i.e., 50/50).
Additionally, just like child care, health insurance is also necessarily included as a factor in the Arizona child support guidelines. In other words, the cost of monthly health insurance is added into the bottom line child support number, and the parent paying for that insurance is given a credit against his share of the total monthly obligation.
Courts generally don’t monitor parents’ use of child support. Make an effort to keep an open dialogue running with your former spouse, and allow them to see the expenses you encounter. While you might not be awarded $16,000 a month in child support, but if you use what you do get thoughtfully, then your child will thank you.