What Should Child Support Payments Be Used For?

When a divorce or separation involves a child under the age of 21, the question of child support can become a complicated one. The parent receiving support may feel they don’t have enough resources to care for the child, while the parent providing support may become frustrated with the amount they are required to pay.

Some of this frustration may be alleviated if parents understand what child support is supposed to cover. Many divorcing couples are surprised to discover what expenses are and are not taken into account when child support is being calculated.

What Should Child Support Cover?

In New York State, determining child support typically begins by calculating the basic support obligation. This payment is intended to cover basic food, housing, and clothing costs and is calculated based on the parents’ incomes.

The percentages used to calculate basic support are:

  • 17% of the combined parental income for one child
  • 25% of the combined parental income for two children
  • 29% of the combined parental income for three children
  • 31% of the combined parental income for four children
  • No less than 35% of the combined parental income for five or more children

The basic support obligation does not take into account healthcare expenses or any costs associated with childcare, including babysitting and after-school care. However, these costs are considered mandatory “add-on” expenses. Once the basic support obligation is calculated, healthcare and childcare costs are added on, with each parent responsible for their share of these expenses.

At a minimum, the non-custodial parent will usually be required to provide basic financial support for:

  • Clothing
  • Copayments and unreimbursed healthcare expenses
  • Food and drink
  • Health insurance
  • Necessary childcare for a working parent
  • Rent, mortgage payments, or other housing costs
  • Utilities

Add-on Child Support in New York

In addition to basic child support, other non-essential expenses may be factored into a child support obligation. Parents may agree to a child support amount that differs from the Court’s basic formula. In other cases, parents may ask the Court to determine if and how any add-on expenses will be incorporated into the child support obligation.

This flexibility helps ensure that child support payments make sense for the family’s lifestyle. For one family, private schools, summer camps, music lessons, and travel may be the norm, while these expenses would be unreasonable for another family. In every case, the Court’s goal is to preserve the child’s lifestyle as it was during the marriage.

Possible add-on child support expenses may include:

  • College tuition
  • Extracurricular activities, clubs, and sports
  • Private lessons and tutoring
  • Religious education
  • School fees and supplies
  • Vehicle and transportation expenses

Negotiating Add-on Child Support

If one or both parents want their child support agreement to include expenses beyond basic food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare, it’s important to discuss these requests with your attorney and determine the best way to negotiate add-on payments.

There are numerous ways to structure payments for a child’s non-essential expenses. For example, if parents want to divide the cost of a child’s music lessons, each parent can pay for half the cost, or each parent can pay their pro-rata share (i.e., a percentage of their income).

Parents may also put a cap on payments for non-essential expenses or make specific requirements for how payments can be used. Your child support agreement could state that you will pay for half of all extracurricular activities up to a maximum of $5,000 a year, or that you agree to pay for a portion of educational and tutoring expenses, but not for sports.

How Do You Make Sure Child Support Is Spent on the Child?

Although parents may spend a significant amount of time calculating and negotiating child support, once the order is in place and payments are being made, there is very little oversight to ensure that payments are being used for the child. Courts generally do not require an accounting of how payments are spent, since it would take enormous resources and could cause an avalanche of unnecessary litigation.

If you are concerned that child support payments will not be spent appropriately, it is possible to directly pay for some expenses, such as healthcare premiums or tuition, to reduce the amount of money given to the custodial parent. If a child’s needs are being neglected even though the custodial parent is receiving child support, your lawyer can help you take legal action.


Karen Rosenthal

Karen B. Rosenthal is a partner and co-founder at matrimonial litigation firm Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP, where she brings 30 years of matrimonial law experience to bear in matters involving high-net-worth equitable distribution, contentious custody battles, and other high-stakes disputes. Certified as an Attorney for the Child and a frequent speaker on topics related to children going through high-conflict divorce, she has been recognized as a leading New York lawyer by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, and New York magazine.

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