As difficult as your divorce is on you and your spouse, you know your children are also struggling in their own ways. They may have to deal with a move away from their home, friends and familiar neighborhood, or they may be facing a future of spending time between their current home and the new abode of their other parent.

One struggle your children should not face is whether you will be able to provide the necessities for them. California and every other state have laws requiring higher-earning parents to supply a prescribed amount of financial support to allow their children to maintain a standard of living similar to what they would have if their parents remained married. Understanding your right to child support is essential to ensuring you are receiving the funds you need to provide well for your children.

How can I use the money?

In most cases, the non-custodial parent supplies financial support to the custodial parent. However, you and your spouse may have a relatively balanced parenting agreement, in which case the court may modify the required support payments. Most states have a formula based on the parents’ income, number of children and other factors that determine the amount of monthly child support the payer will owe. The money is for the needs of the children, not for your own use. Some of the ways you can use child support include these:

  • Rent, mortgage or other expenses for the home where the children live
  • Food and clothing for the children
  • Books, toys and other items the children will enjoy
  • Items for school, including books, clothing, shoes and other supplies
  • The cost of field trips, sporting activities, music lessons and other extracurricular interests
  • Doctor visits, dental appointments, prescriptions, eyeglasses and other medical needs

You may also request that your ex-spouse continue covering the children under his or her health insurance plan. You and your spouse may also include in your plan contingencies for unexpected expenses related to the children or for future educational needs.

The careful management of the money you receive for child support is essential. Even if some is leftover at the end of the month, you should never use it for your own purposes, such as your haircuts, clothing, personal items or vacations that do not include your children. With the help of your attorney, you and your ex may wish to clearly define the manner in which you will use child support payments to avoid any conflicts, misunderstandings or accusations.