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Child Support vs. Payment of Other Expenses for a Child

In a recent entry, we saw that nonpayment of tens of thousands of dollars of child support by a Rhode Island father led to his out of state arrest.  Here is another case that can lead to problems.

Traditionally, one parent pays support to the parent with primary possession of the children.  States, including Rhode Island, have "guidelines" that proscribe the amount of support based upon the parties' gross income. Rhode Island Attorney Steven Hirsch can help you apply the guidelines, considering your particular situation (medical insurance costs, costs for other children, shared possession, or disability income).

Some parents obligated to pay support (the obligor), believe that paying other expenses for the children may be used as a credit against the child support to be paid to an ex-spouse.  An obligor does this because she or he intentionally or unconsciously wants to exert financial control over the ex-spouse, or wants to be disruptive or does not want to comply with a court order felt to be "not fair".

An Appeals Court in Alabama had such a case (Caswell vs. Caswell) in July 2012. The father, owing his ex-wife over $40,000, sought credit of nearly $30,000 against the child support arrearage, since he had proof that he paid expenditures for his children included "school, clothing, fishing equipment, truck parts, guns, cellular-telephone bills, dirt-bike parts, and skateboard parts."

"The mother argued that the father should receive credit totaling, at most, $5,567.76 against the arrearage, because that number, in her opinion, represented the listed expenditures actually related to essential child support and maintenance."

The Court's decision, which did not uphold the father's request, reminds us that child support guidelines are designed to provide for the basic support needs of a minor child(ren). When a noncustodial parent seeks a credit against a support obligation, extras such as cars, gifts, and private school tuition are not allowable credits against child support. Automobile insurance, skateboards, even monthly cell phone bills could not be automatically characterized as essential to basic child support.

This may seem harsh, considering that many children have cell phones and a car in their mid teens. The court explained that it wanted to avoid having a noncustodial parent "win favor in the eyes of the child by providing nonessential 'extras,' all while the custodial parent is potentially struggling to provide the child's basic necessities, such as, food, clothing, and shelter, in the absence of court-ordered child support payments."

Steven Hirsch, a RI divorce attorney, can help you receive the support you are entitled to or help you negotiate a possible lower support payment if you are going to pay for certain other expenses for your child.  What is prohibited when done by one party without permission can be acceptable when it is part of a negiotiated agreement. Call Steve before you end up spending time and money litigating issues like the above.

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Law Office of Steven J. Hirsch, Esq

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