Children are expensive—there’s no way around it. If you pay child support, you may be wondering if other payments you make could decrease the amount you owe each month. If you receive child support and your co-parent is attempting to pay less because of items they’ve bought your child, you may be wondering if that’s legal.
This can be a complicated topic, and it’s important to know your rights and obligations. Call Olmstead & Olmstead at 703-361-1555 to set up a consultation now.
How Gifts and Other Purchases Affect Child Support
Child support is used to cover a child’s basic and necessary expenses, such as food, shelter, and medical care. For many paying parents, it’s one of their largest bills every month. If you spend other money on your child, you may wonder if that can count against the total child support you owe. This is a particularly common question around Christmas when it’s easy to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a child’s gifts.
However, the money you spend on your child outside of child support does not count toward your child support in Virginia. When you look at how this could be misused, it makes sense. Consider, for example, a vengeful co-parent who pays child support.
When they have their child for the weekend, they buy them a $100 toy because the child asks for it. They then inform their co-parent, who makes much less money, that they will be docking that month’s child support by $100. That $100 may not mean much to the paying parent, but it could be an entire bill or week of groceries for the custodial parent. By requiring child support to be paid as ordered and in the manner ordered, the courts prevent this from becoming an issue of control.
How to Navigate This Issue with Your Coparent
For some co-parents, it isn’t a matter of control—just convenience. For example, if two co-parents frequently communicate about items to supply their child’s needs, they may agree between themselves to adjust child support to accommodate extra purchases. This puts the paying party in a dangerous position.
While they and their co-parent may have agreed on a lower child support amount for certain months, there is nothing protecting them legally. Should the co-parenting relationship suddenly go south, the parent who receives child support suddenly has leverage. They can claim that the other parent is behind on child support, pointing to the months where they have paid less than the court-ordered amount.
How do you get around this? You should be able to communicate about it openly with your co-parent. It’s completely normal to want all exchanges of money to happen as legally ordered—it’s not about trusting or not trusting the other parent, it’s just about sticking to the court order. If the paying parent wants to buy something for the child on their time, they should consider it something above and beyond child support.
Is a Child Support Modification Necessary?
If you spend so much on your child outside of child support that it is becoming financially unsustainable, you may want to consider a child support modification or a frank conversation with your co-parent. In some cases, the non-custodial parent ends up paying for things that the custodial parent should be using child support for. This means that the custodial parent essentially receives child support twice.
If you find yourself in this position, you may want to talk to your co-parent about how your spending will be changing as you move forward. Note that these conversations can be messy, awkward, or even adversarial—but if you feel like your co-parent is taking advantage of you, it’s a conversation that may need to happen.
Explore Your Legal Options with Olmstead & Olmstead
If you have questions about your child support order or how your spending may affect it, it’s a good time to talk to a family law attorney. Our team can help you negotiate a fair child support agreement, request a modification, or ensure that you are not overpaying. Call us at 703-361-1555 or to set up a consultation now.