The CO (Custody Order) for my stepdaughter gave her two hours with my husband on Wednesday evenings. Sometimes my stepson and I would join him, and other weeks he would have dad-daughter time. One Wednesday night, he called me from the local pet store and told me that my stepdaughter wanted a cat at her mom’s house. He went on to explain that his ex had (graciously) offered to split all the expenses: adoption fees, cat litter, cat food, cat toys, and vet bills. I was incredulous for minute before I finally said, “We are NOT paying child support for a cat!!” You cannot make this stuff up.
This story spotlights the very real issue of child support, what it covers, and how it’s spent. Let me preface by saying that I’m not a lawyer, officer of the court, or expert; the opinions expressed in this post are simply the result of extensive research and personal experience. Child support and family law vary state by state, so I encourage you to do your own research and/or seek legal counsel.
Let’s start by covering a few basics:
- Court-ordered child support can cover an array of household expenses associated with the child, including mortgage/rent, utilities, clothing, and food.
- The parent receiving the child support has the discretion to spend it as he/she deems necessary in caring for the child.
- Additional expenses, including daycare, private school fees, and extracurricular activities, may or may not be covered in addition to standard child support.
- Misuse of child support, child neglect, and withholding visitation do not automatically release the payee parent from the child support obligation (this requires modification of the custody/support order).
- In some states, medical support is required in addition to child support. Medical support covers the cost of health insurance premiums and specifies how uncovered medical expenses are to be paid or reimbursed.
What’s reasonable? What if your stepkid’s mom requests you to pay or reimburse her for an expense that isn’t explicitly covered in the support order? My husband and I used these criteria when deciding how to respond:
- Is the expense for something that’s truly outside standard child support? My stepdaughter’s mom regularly asked to split or reimburse the cost for a variety of expenses, and my husband’s heart was to provide well for his daughter. We had to be very discerning between the day-to-day expenses and “extras” like marching band, sports, and prom.
- How much notice did you get? With major expenses like private school tuition and cosmetic braces, it isn’t unreasonable for a parent to want to budget. Ideally, your husband would be included in the decision-making, but if not, many providers work with split households and allow payment plans.
Her house, her money. Be honest: does it make you angry when your stepkid’s mom buys a new car, or takes the kids on vacation? Sweet friend, out of love, I need to tell you to STOP IT. Stop making judgments on how your husband’s ex spends her money. I know it’s hard when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but you’re allowing jealousy to hold you hostage. Instead, be grateful that your stepkids have a safe, clean vehicle to ride in and get to make happy memories with both parents. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my husband’s ex dictating how we spend our time & money; I have to remember to extend her the same courtesy.
Your house, your finances. Make a plan for when his ex brings up unexpected expenses on the spot (over the phone or in person). Empower your husband to communicate with her in a healthy way by saying, “I need to check our budget,” before agreeing to pay. Not only does this allow you and your husband to talk over the impact of the expense on your household, it also prevents him from being guilted into paying on the spot.
You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. – Phillipians 4:19
I want to close this post by pointing out the obvious: our husbands love their children and work hard to provide for them. Conservative family law has resulted in many dads being made non-custodial and required to pay child support. As stepmoms, being financially beholden to your husband’s ex can be a bitter pill to swallow. Can I ask you to be intentional when writing the child support check each month? Pray over it and ask God to meet your stepson or stepdaughter’s needs. He’s a good Father, and He knows exactly what they need even when their earthly father can’t be there.