A custodial parent can spend child support on almost anything. No federal law includes any rules for this, and most state laws don't address it either. Non-custodial parents may want reassurance that their child support payments are going toward their children's needs, but the law is not set up to provide such reassurance. It would be almost impossible for the custodial parent to account for every nickel spent.
Child Support Should Pay for Basic Needs
Technically, child support is supposed to cover housing, food, and clothing, but the costs of raising a child usually involve more than just these basic needs. There are expenses for school and after-school activities and for toys. Older teenagers might have car costs, such as auto insurance or gasoline.
Most child support payments easily cover a child's share of the household's basic expenses, with some money left over. A custodial parent can reasonably spend that money on the extras.
Child Support Is Based on Parents' Incomes
The idea behind child support is that the children of divorced or separated parents should live as comfortably as they would have if their parents had stayed together. Most states calculate child support by adding together both parents' incomes, then setting aside a percentage of the total for their children's needs.
The law assumes that the custodial parent is paying for housing, food, and clothing directly by making the mortgage or rent payments and buying groceries and clothes. The non-custodial parent contributes to these expenses by making a cash payment.
Some States Order Child Support Add-Ons
Children also need healthcare and medical insurance, and child care is often necessary so the custodial parent can work. After calculating basic child support, the court adds a percentage of any additional costs to this basic child support amount. This yields the amount that the non-custodial parent's contributes.
Some states will also add on unusual extracurricular or educational costs, such as an extra amount for a child to attend a private school for gifted children.
Custodial Parents Don't Have to Report on Spending
Because custodial parents don't have to submit an accounting to the court for their child support spending, it's possible that a parent could spend the money - or at least some of it - on the parent's personal needs. If a non-custodial parent suspects this is happening, he or she can notify the court, but probably won't get much of a response unless the child's needs are actually being ignored or neglected. Some states will order parents to mediation to try to work the problem out, but judges will rarely do much more than that.
A Family Law Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the spending of child support can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.