What Is Child Support For?

I recently came across a question in a Facebook moms groups. The question was interesting, but the responses were even more so. It led me to realize that many people are confused about child support. So, what is child support for? Who does it “belong” to?

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Let me share what I think.

Why was child support created?

Child support was created to help single parents care for their dependent children without the state’s aid. While child support has been ordered for many years, there wasn’t much enforcement in the US until 1975.

Children have many needs that single parents often have trouble meeting on their own, including the need for shelter, food, electricity, water, transportation, clothes, entertainment, school, and yes, even their wants.

While there is federal aid given to single parents if they fall below the income thresholds, the ultimate goal is for the two parents of a child to come together and support their child.

Child support helps to reduce the burden on the State and Federal Government, and force responsibility onto the child’s actual parents.

What is child support for?

Child support is meant to help pay for anything and everything related to caring for a child.

This includes:

  • household bills (mortgage/rent & utilities)
  • transportation costs (car/bus/taxi/uber)
  • childcare (daycare & babysitting services)
  • education (school, before- & after-care)
  • food (at home and at school)
  • clothes
  • entertainment
  • extracurricular activities (school activities, piano, sports gear, etc.)

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should help you understand many of the costs associated with children and what child support is meant to help with.

The government doesn’t want to assume the responsibility for an absent parent. Instead, income from both of a child’s parents is expected to help support the child.

Additionally, child support is meant to help equalize parents, so a child can have a somewhat normal lifestyle even when going from one parent’s household to the others. Because of this, child support can and is often granted even when parents share custody 50/50.

Who does child support belong to?

Child support is granted to the custodial parent, or the parent who makes less money, by the non-custodial (other) parent. It belongs to mom to use at her discretion for her child’s needs.

Just as if both parents were in the home co-parenting as a nuclear family would not give a child money meant to sustain the household and take care of him or her, a single-parent household should not be expected to give child support directly to the child.

The single parent will allocate the funds as necessary to make sure her household runs smoothly and her child(ren) are taken care of. A household needs more than just basics to run, and child support is meant to help ensure all needs of the child are met.

Some single parents do choose to give their child some or all of the child support money, especially if they are doing well financially and it does not make a difference in their household. Some may choose to save the money for the child in a bank account. If the single parent chooses to do so, this is absolutely fine.

Who does child support arrears go to?

The short and sweet answer is child support arrears goes to the custodial parent, even if the child is now an adult. Child support is meant to help the custodial parent raise the child, so if he or she is doing it on his or her own without the other parents’ aid, then that arrearage is past due and meant to reimburse expenses paid.

This is the question that originally led to this post. In a Facebook group, the following scenario was posed:

Child support arrears scenario

As you can see, it was a very lively discussion! This was in a moms group, so I assume these opinions are all from moms.

In this scenario, the child is now 22 years old. Mom has supported her child for 22 years through elementary school, middle school, high school and college. She has done this on her own, and paid partially or in full for the child’s college expenses. Dad did not help.

When that child support arrears check comes through, that belongs to mom. Whether she’s paying off debt, buying a new car, putting it in her bank account, splitting it with her child, or giving her child a down payment on his or her first home is all up to her.

The money does not belong to the child, and there is no obligation to spend a single penny of it on the child. She’s already covered her part plus child support’s part. The child support arrears check is a reimbursement well overdue. Most single parents are not that lucky.

There were so many opinions contrary, that at first it was difficult to understand why anyone would feel that mom isn’t entitled to this check that came in her name.

Several women brought up the fact that legally the check belongs to mom. Some brought up the fact that if mom was receiving aid from the government that they might take all or a portion of the check to reimburse their expenses. It made no difference.

Some moms really felt that the check should go to the child.

Some believed this because they were operating from an altruistic place, wanting to set their child up for the best in life. That I can understand, but it is at mom’s discretion to do so.

Some kept asking “What is child support for?” and stating that the answer is “The child,” and so it should go directly to the child. They completely missed the point that child support is meant to take care of the child, not to hand to the child.

One even chimed up that “mom would not receive this arrears check if she didn’t have a child.” While this is true, mom also wouldn’t have so many expenses over the last 22 years if she didn’t have a child.

Child Support Arrears Conversation

Several felt that it is definitely the child’s money because it is called “child support.” Again, obviously they are missing what “money to support the child” entails.

One mom mentioned that:

As a mother you did what you were suppose to do. I was unaware we needed to be paid back.

While I can understand this point of view, this goes against the very reason child support is essential.

Parents do what they’re supposed to because it is their responsibility. And because they love their children. It’s the most essential part of being a good parent.

While mom is owed the arrears and is entitled to the reimbursement, it doesn’t mean that she ever expected to actually see this money. It also doesn’t mean that she regrets a single thing she did for her child, or feels that she is owed the money for being a good mom.

On the contrary, single parents do what they must regardless of the adversities they face. And if they are ever repaid for all the hard work they put in selflessly, it is a bonus well-deserved.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, my opinion is in sync with the legal opinion that child support is for all of a child’s expenses. We cannot pick and choose and say that child support should only to a child’s basic necessities like food and clothing. Children need and deserve much more than that!

Single parents do their best to take care of their children on their own, and if they receive child support many times it does not make a huge dent. Still, every penny counts and both parents should feel great taking care of their child.

It is my honor to contribute to my child’s wellbeing, and I can only hope all parents feel the same!

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