One of the chief complaints we often hear from child support payors is that they pay too much.  From payees, we hear that they get too little.  From the payors, it’s that there is no accounting for what their often substantial child support payments go towards.  From the payees, there are claims that child support pays for everything under the sun including things that child support really doesn’t shouldn’t pay for.  The reality is that child support orders are not based on anything remotely resembling the actual expenses of raising children.

States generally set their formula primarily from information gathered from “Consumer Spending Surveys.”  Also included in the calculations is this intangible thing called “established lifestyle.”  Needless to say, the primary driver of the “Consumer Spending Surveys” means that the spending habits of families, and not just on the needs of the family, but the wants of the family, are factored into the equation.  Given the current state of our economy, one thing is abundantly clear – consumers are spending far more than they can afford and it stands to reason that so many child support orders reflect those bad habits.

With exception of the few “flat-rate states” – child support orders are generally imposed to equalize income between the households.  How much time the children spend with each parent will affect that figure up or down for the paying parent.  Since the “prize” of additional income from one parent to the other is predicated on maximizing one’s own child custody time, it’s not very hard to realize that this is often a significant driver for child custody litigation.  More custodial time to one parent means more money flowing from the non-custodial parent to the one with primary custody.  It’s a very simple transfer of wealth from the higher earning parent to the lower earning parent.  In the majority of those situations, it’s the father paying the mother.

The bottom line is, except in the rarest instances on excepting only a very few specific items, there is simply no requirement that the child support receiving parent ever has to account for how the child support money is spent.  The exceptions (and sometimes not even for these):

  • Child care expenses.
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses.
  • Additional expenses for special needs children.
  • Extracurricular activities.

Usually there is some measure of accountability because some or all of those expenses are rolled into the child support order by default.  So, invoices and other payment evidence is often required to ensure the accuracy of the additional finances to be rolled into the child support figure.

Whether we like it or not, the bottom line is that there is no accounting for how child support money is spent. Child support is further predicated on the misguided notion that the children are entitled to the same lifestyle after divorce as they had before the divorce.  Except that it fails to consider that there are now two households and all of the associated expenses instead of one.  Now, the default is that the court feels it is necessary to “equalize” the income of both households while never holding one parent or the other to any standard of income, making better for themselves or the children, and in some cases – ever requiring that a parent work at all – that is, unless you’re the child support paying parent.

Until such time that maximizing parenting time for each parent becomes more important to the states and legislatures than maximizing child support orders – this is the way the system will remain.  If you’re looking for accountability for how child support payments are spent, you won’t find it as part of the child support process.