Kids cost money, an undeniable fact. While it is impossible to know from the start just how much those little bundles of joy will cost you, experts predict a total cost of almost $250,000 on average. In the most recent estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the annual amount of spending on children ranged from $9,330 to $23,380. Costs varied, of course, depending on household income, the age of the child, and family composition.
The USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families annual report aids family court systems and government agencies in determining child support expenses. It provides estimates for significant budget items in the cost of raising children from birth through age 17. The budgetary components include food, housing, transportation, healthcare, clothing, childcare, and education. The report also provides estimates for miscellaneous goods and services. Included are things such as non-school reading materials, haircuts, entertainment, and personal care items.
Child support and overall spending on children for that matter is an extremely sensitive topic in divorce and parent custodial matters. To begin understanding what is right or fair for child support we should start by looking at what costs typically arise when providing for a child. Listed below are some very common expenses.
Necessities Such as Food, Clothing, Shelter
- groceries, snacks, beverages, and other food items
- boots, shoes, jackets, and appropriate clothing
- housing shelter costs, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, telephone, and water
Medical Care Insurance
- medical, dental, and vision insurance
Uninsured Medical Expenses
- out-of-pocket medical costs that exceed the cost of a basic health care insurance plan
- including co-pays, deductibles
- accident or emergency services costs
- dental braces
- special health care costs
- school clothes/uniforms
- school photos
- tuition fees
- lunch money
- private tutors, if necessary
- daycare services
- childcare during summer months, spring break, and some holidays
- basic transportation and travel cost
- gas fees
- car payments
- bus fare or other forms of transportation
- child’s travel to visit the noncustodial parent
- access to computers
- television programs
- movie theatre
- amusement parks
- camping trips and other outings
- after-school programs/classes
- summer camp
- sports activities
- clubs – ex. Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts
- music, dance, or other private lessons
While this list is not exhaustive, it gives a good indication of what costs might come up over the course of your child’s life. When considering what is enough spending on children, it is important to know basic child support payments may not (and probably won’t) provide your child with more than their minimal needs. If you want them to enjoy an enriched life too, you may end up spending a bit more.
What Am I Paying For?
State laws, which vary from state to state, regulate what expenses are included in direct child support calculations. All 50 states create and utilize child support guidelines to determine amounts one parent may be required to pay to the other for child-related expenses. A variety of factors are taken into consideration to decide what is ultimately the amount of support needed to maintain a child’s standard of living as close to what it was in a two-parent home. Income and the ability to pay support are primary factors in these calculations.
Be sure and check the child support guidelines in your state, as the laws vary greatly.
Once the court factors the essential financial and support needs of a child, a child support order is issued to reflect the determined amount one parent must pay. Should there be a change in the child’s needs, or if a significant difference develops in one parent’s circumstances,, a request for change may be filed.
While childcare, uninsured medical expenses and extracurricular activities are typical expenses in raising a child, they are not always routinely calculated in child support amounts ordered by the courts. These costs may be included in the divorce settlement agreement, however, upon request.
To avoid questions and potential disagreements with your ex-wife in the future, lay out as many of these additional child-rearing expenses as possible in your divorce agreement. If you did not outline these other costs, daycare or uninsured dental care as an example, in your initial child support agreement, you might wish to do so now.
Don’t underestimate the value an experienced divorce lawyer can provide to help ensure the best outcome for both you and your child.
While courts may not command the parent paying child support to provide additional monies to cover dance recitals and traveling sports, when it’s important to your kid, you might want to go ahead and budget a little extra for upcoming events.
As you evaluate the needs for your lifestyle as a single man and work to determine a budget for your post-divorce life, be realistic about what child support covers and what it does not. There may be times you are asked to pay for things that are not basic needs but will enhance your child’s life. Responding to these money inquiries may require setting aside personal feelings of your ex. This is why detailing what supporting your child after a divorce entails, as precisely as possible, in your initial divorce discussions should help you navigate when these times come.
My Ex Won’t Account for the Money
Courts do not require the parents who receive child support to prove the child support payments go toward specific expenses or activities. It is assumed by the courts that custodial parents of children are spending on children as required to adequately raise the child. Thus, they will not monitor the expenses and spending habits of a custodial parent unless there is compelling evidence to indicate misuse of support payments.
Continually being asked to send additional money or receiving numerous requests to purchase essential items like underwear, socks, and toothpaste may indicate your ex-spouse is not using the support funds correctly.
Before getting too pissed off, see if a change in circumstances is causing these requests. Maybe her car broke down, and she needs extra money for repairs. You can give her some slack, or help her out a little bit, or you can laugh in her face and tell her to ride the damn bus. But don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You never know when circumstances may be reversed, and you may be the one in a financial pinch.
However, if you are convinced your ex-wife is not utilizing the support payments to provide for your kids, start taking notes. Record the requests she makes for extras, as well as any spending you are doing during your parenting time if you end up purchasing necessities for your child. Keep receipts of what you buy and request reimbursement for amounts you think are reasonable.
If your reimbursement requests go ignored, or the pleas for more money from you do not stop, consider consulting an attorney.
Spending on Children, the Bottom Line
It is highly unlikely the amount set for child support by the courts will cover all the needs of your children all through their childhood years to age 18. The more you can prepare yourself (and any future spouse) for covering some additional expenses the better off your child, and all parental parties will be.
Discuss with your child’s mother early on how you will split extra costs for your kids to avoid potentially ugly discussions down the line. It is better to deal with the issues now than to disappoint your child later because you disagree with their mom on who will pay for piano lessons or hockey skates.
Spending on children is something every parent must do, whether married or divorced. While child support payment and money for extras is for the care and benefit of your child, you aren’t a bad dad if you draw the line at excessive spending.