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What is Child Support for?

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Love it or hate it, child support is one of the most contentious subjects in blended families!

Should it be paid? Who should pay for it? How much child support should be paid? When should it be paid? How do our contributions as stepmoms factor in? What is a fair amount for child support? What should child support get spent on? What happens if the other parent is misusing child support?

These questions are enough to give anyone a headache! If you or your partner are dealing with a child support negotiation or situation, you likely have at least a few of these questions swirling around in your head—and, rightly so! 

Don’t stress! As a stepmom who’s dealt with my fair share of child support affairs before, as a child whose divorced parents brought it up a lot and as a Certified Stepparent Coach, I’m here to guide you through this tricky territory!

If you find yourself in a custody battle, consult with a legal professional for their take on child support spending. This article is intended to be a jumping off point for you, not a substitute for legal guidance.

What is child support used for?

It’s true that kids are expensive. They can’t yet support themselves and require various things to grow, develop, and live a satisfactory and safe life.

Expenses that child support gets used for include, but definitely aren’t limited to:

  • Food
  • Housing
  • Healthcare, medical insurance (though you’ll want to check your custody agreement to see if this is clearly designated as one parent’s obligation)
  • Clothing and shoes
  • School fees, tutoring, and extracurricular activities
  • Utilities such as heating, lights, water, phone bill, gas, and internet
  • Transportation, including for the bus, a car, gas, etc.
  • Childcare, such as a nanny or daycare
  • Fun and educational activities and excursions
  • Toys, educational items, books, etc.

How is child support calculated?

How much child support a parent is required to pay is a much more contentious issue than what it should get used on. Luckily, this matter is usually carefully considered and settled on by the court, the lawyers, and the two parents. 

If you’re wondering how exactly child support gets calculated, though, there’s no easy, “one-size-fits-all” answer to the question. The truth is, each case is unique, as are the methods of calculation. 

In the US, child support calculation methods vary from state to state, with some going on a flat rate and others on a percentage of income—or even another more complex calculation such as the Melson formula

The court will also take into consideration many other factors when deciding how much parents should pay. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Whether or not the parents are paying child support or alimony from previous or subsequent relationships
  • Whether or not the parents are receiving child support or alimony from previous or subsequent relationships
  • How much each parent earns in both regular and irregular payments or income
  • Both parents’ assets, including cars, houses, businesses, etc.
  • The parent’s tax obligations
  • The children’s ages and specific needs
  • The child’s own resources, such as a trust or inheritance
  • Whether or not the child is disabled (In the case of disabled adult children, child support may also be required.)
  • If the parent is living with a partner, such as a stepparent, who is paying for a share of their household expenses (Here is a list of states where stepparents are legally responsible for financially supporting children during marriage.)

Is it possible for your partner or the ex to get child support recalculated?

Usually, the amount of child support required will be settled upon during divorce or child custody and support proceedings. Once this amount gets set, the liable parents are required to pay that exact amount in child support going forward. 

However, if a parent’s income changes in the future, it’s possible for them to appeal for a child support recalculation. During these proceedings, the parent who wishes the child support amount to get recalculated will need to prove a substantial change in financial status.

If we get 50/50 custody, will child support go away?

It can, but it’s not guaranteed. In some cases, child support is still required to be paid, even when parents have joint custody.

Is your income as a stepparent factored into the child support calculations?

In many states, as a stepparent, you’re not legally obliged to pay child support or assist financially or otherwise with its payment. However, your income may factor in when the courts calculate how much your partner is liable to pay in child support. 

Why? Because if you are living with and sharing household expenses with your partner, their basic living cost is likely decreased. Therefore, due to your contributions, your partner may have more money free to pay for child support.

If your stepchildren live with you all or most of the time, then your contributions to household expenses will likely be of more importance in the calculations. This will likely affect how much the ex needs to pay in child support, more so than your partner.

Are there any instances where a stepparent may become financially liable for their stepchildren?

When it comes to finances and blended families, I know that things can get a little complex. You may end up paying a little extra here and there for toys, activities, entertainment, food, or utilities, particularly if your partner has financial struggles at some point. 

You can push back and say “no” in these instances, but it’s also important to be aware that there are a few instances where you may be financially liable for your stepkids. These include if you adopt them, act “In Loco Parentis,” or if the Estoppel doctrine comes into play.

Adoption: If you choose to legally adopt your stepchildren, you will, of course, be financially, physically, and emotionally liable for them as much as their parents should be.

In Loco Parentis: If you step in “In Loco Parentis” to provide financial support to your stepchildren in lieu of the ex, then you may also be liable to support them. For example, you may get ordered to pay the same financial support to your stepchildren if you and your partner divorce later on. 

Don’t stress if you are helping out now, though! This is more likely to occur if your stepchild becomes completely financially reliant upon you for an extended period of time and your support severed their ties to the ex and their support.

Estoppel: If you do step in and make your stepchildren reliant on your financial support, the Estoppel doctrine may also come into play. This law is a little different from “In Loco Parentis.” It disallows a stepparent from reneging from a financial promise or commitment that may damage the stepchild’s financial security.

What happens if you and your partner have a child of your own?

When you and your partner have children of your own, this does not automatically change the child support your partner is liable to pay for their biological kids. 

However, it does allow them to ask for a child support recalculation based on their own increased costs related to financially supporting your and your child.

What can you and your partner do if you think the ex is misusing the child support?

If you and your partner suspect that the ex is misusing the child support funds, you can request a review. However, it may not be easy to get this considered, especially for minor grievances. Minor disputes are generally not considered and are left for the parents to sort out between themselves. 

The courts are only likely to set a hearing if the situation is serious, such as the child looks neglected, is always sick, malnourished, or lacking vital items such as books to study.

It’s also important to note that if a hearing goes ahead and the ex is found to be misusing the money for alcohol or drugs and neglecting your stepchild, things could become serious. In this case, the family court may get involved, which could result in your stepchild being taken out of the ex’s custody.

Regardless of your situation, it’s always a good idea to seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer. In the US, laws, and regulations vary from state to state.

P.S. Child support and custody go hand in hand. Check out this list of custody agreement must-haves!

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