Child Support: The Basics Versus The Extras

When parents of minor children live in separate households, providing for children’s financial needs can become especially challenging.  Occasionally, the press reports on studies that calculate the financial cost of raising a child until legal adulthood, and to most of us, the number of dollars is enormous.  Still, children need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and cared for when parents are at work.  The basic health insurance needs of children must also be addressed.

When evaluating the affordability of child support, it helps to understand the difference between what we want and what we need.  For legal purposes, child support is designed to cover the basic needs of children and, as a general rule, the law holds both mothers and fathers legally accountable for the financial support of their children.  For most people, the amount of child support will be calculated according to a formula established in the law.  This formula divides the obligation of child support in proportion to each parent’s income, allowing for variations that depend on the circumstances of the particular family.  For example, as one would intuit, the amount of child support that is appropriate for two children will differ from the amount for six children.  Similarly, the appropriate amount of child support will differ according to the actual residential time spent by the child in each parent’s home as well as the total amount of income generated by the family.

Child support is not generally intended to cover expenses for extracurricular activities such as sports teams or dance lessons (nor will child support be ordered by a Maryland court to cover college tuition or expenses).  While parents may desire to provide these “extras” for their children, affordability must be considered before committing to these expenditures.  In sum, while the law requires parents to provide financial support for their children, legal child support is the start of the analysis with respect to affordability.  Parents who live in separate households may have to address the issue of affordability more directly in their budgets than parents who live together with their children, but at some point, all parents must address the issue of affordability in supporting their children.