Budget Fail: Child Support Is It Enough?

You and your ex duked it out in court, the mediators office, or on your own and came up with, what seemed fair at the time for child support. Determining your child’s best interests and what seemed reasonable is never easy, and the financial outcome is hard to determine at a time when your entire budget is in a state of change.

The fact of the matter is that most states have pre-determined formulas for determining child support, based on both parents income or income capabilities, who pays the insurance, and the number of overnights the child or children spend with the parent.

Is it Fair?

So wasting time, energy and money trying to get more often proves to be futile. If you feel the amount is unfair consider the below first:

  • It’s a collectible number. Your ex has a decent job and the determined amount fits into their budget making the reality of actually receiving the support on time and in full each month is likely. If you go for more you may end up with less or nothing at all. Most parents are more than willing to pay what they can afford; if they cant afford you may find them constantly in arrears which does nothing for your monthly budget.
  • Less may mean more. If you agree on less than what the formula suggest your ex may be willing to foot the bill for some of those extras; after-school activities, camp, or even college. Remember those extras often add up!

Kids are expensive-determine needs early on…

College may be years away if you have young children, but who is going to pay for it?

What about their first car?

Birthday parties?

Braces?

Summer Camp?

Day Care?

After School Activities?

Yes, these are considered extras. Child support is meant to pay for the child’s necessities; food, shelter, clothing, telephone, utilities, and so on.

Your New Budget with Child Support

The amount has been determined now it’s time to make your budget work with this figure, plan for the extras, and keep yourself out of debt.

Developing a Budget

The first step in taking control of your finances in any situation is to take a realistic look at your income and your monthly expenses and come up with a budget.

  • Start by listing all your income; employment, child support, and or alimony.
  • Then list your “fixed” expenses — those that are the same each month — like mortgage payments or rent, car payments, and insurance premiums.
  • Next, list the expenses that vary — like entertainment, recreation, and clothing.

Writing down all your expenses, even those that seem insignificant, is a helpful way to track your spending patterns, identify necessary expenses, and prioritize the rest.

Dealing with your creditors

  • If you are struggling to pay the basics and have outstanding debt as wellcontact your creditors right away.
  • Honesty is always the best policy, explain your situation (not receiving child support or currently unemployed whatever the case may be) and try to work out a modified payment plan that reduces your payments to what you can afford.
  • Avoid having the accounts turned over to collections deal with the debt early on.

Dealing with Debt Collectors

Maybe it’s too late and the collection agencies are already calling–it’s important to know your rights!

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is the federal law that dictates how and when a debt collector may contact you. A debt collector may not call you before 8 a.m., after 9 p.m., or while you’re at work if the collector knows that your employer doesn’t approve of the calls. Collectors may not harass you, lie, or use unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. And they must honor a written request from you to stop further contact.

Pay secured debt first

It is important to understand that secured debts are tied to assets, like your car for a car loan, or your house for a mortgage. If you stop making payments, the lender can repossess your car or foreclose on your house.

  • If you see default in your future it may be in your best interest to sell the car and pay off the debt. In doing so you can avoid the added costs of repossession and a ding on your credit report.
  • If you are falling behind on your mortgage, contact your lender immediately to avoid foreclosure. Most lenders are willing to work with you if they believe you’re acting in good faith and the situation is temporary. Some lenders may reduce or suspend your payments for a short time.

Maybe you aren’t receiving the amount of child support you hoped for, or worse any at all. Staying on top of your finances regardless of what your ex does is essential to your financial health. Stay strong, make sacrifices when you have too, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Suzanne Cramer

Suzanne is a certified credit counselor working in our Ask the Expert forums as a coach and a Social Media Specialist for CareOne. Suzanne tells her story of divorce and remarriage in her Divorce, Debt and Finances blog and also provides debt related content to the A Straight Talk on Debt blog.  Follow Suzanne’s story and tips on finance on Twitter at ADivorcedMom.

Lee Brochstein About Lee Brochstein

Lee Brochstein is a certified professional divorce coach, blogger, a well-known author and a nationally known expert from her appearances on television and radio talk shows. She enjoys alliteration, Mad Men, Big Bang, mixed breeds, vanilla lattes, red wine and her kids when they aren’t killing each other. Follow her on twitter and Facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/MrCustodyCoach Custody Coach

    Child support isn’t and never was about covering “the children’s basic necessities.” In fact, a good many of the comments in the Lee Block Huff-Post article you linked spell it out in details that I need not repeat here.

    It’s about “standard of living.” It’s about “income equalization.” And even in the flat-rate states, child support is often ordered even when both households make more than enough to cover more than the children’s basic needs.

    It’s spousal support disguised as child support in too many cases and the system is designed to feed the system via federal reimbursements associated with child support collections.

    College? Cars? Birthday Parties? Please.

    • michelle

      I totally agree with child support is nothing more than an equaliztion between homes. Which is unfair to one parent who busted their behind to get to where they are and the other oarent does nothing. This isn’t true with all divorce cases. But for the ones I have seen – it’s one parent who wants what the other has and doesn’t want to help themselves. What happens when CS runs out when the kids are 18?

  • Anonymous

    @custodycoach I agree in many cases child support determinations are not fair and the system used for calculating support doesn’t account for the so called “extras”. The article was more about fitting child support into your budget and knowing your limits when it comes to what you can and can’t afford when it comes to your kids and your financial future.

    @michelle As a parent who is the one busting their butt to get ahead I look at child support differently than most people. The support I receive for my son is for him; I base our family budget without support figured in. Yes, we make sacrifices and we go without a lot of the things we might like to have, but I feel the decisions I have made will benefit my son later on when he wants a car, or to attend college. I only dip into the support for out of the ordinary expenses for my son; medical bills, afterschool activities, and sports for example.

    • http://twitter.com/MrCustodyCoach Custody Coach

      I understand that, but it also interjected common points of misconception and misunderstanding and it was those issues I chose to address.

      • Chris

        I make about 6k more than my ex wife, and am ordered to give her $1180 per month for my two children, ages 6 and 4. I have them anytime I can, but my scheduled days are Monday-Thursday and every other weekend. Unfortunately they are at their mothers house all weeknights as the woman automatically “wins” custodial, which is extremely sad in itself.
        The question is, I have no problem giving her money for MY CHILDREN, but she literally takes my 1180 and pays her credit cards and mortgage, etc. I can’t control what she does with her money I’m already aware, however now she is demanding I pay for a SHARED birthday party for my daughter, letting my 4 year old daughter pick where she wants it.
        When I advised my ex wife that we should have seperate parties because I don’t feel comfortable having us together with the kids and want to “keep the peace”, she then responded telling me that I made my daughter cry because I said that her mother can’t go to her birthday party. If that’s not manipulation, I don’t know what is.
        Am I obligated to also pay for the birthday parties every other year? I’m not understanding this much. She should have plenty of money for the kids and birthday parties.
        The whole system just really makes me sick. On top of that she has a lawyer who has no idea what our children want and need, and tries to keep the children from me to ensure she keeps receiving FULL support. I call it pure greed and really using the kids as pawns. Should I just file a motion and try to be at the mercy of the judge? My lawyer hasn’t been too helpful either unfortunately, so I’m looking for advice.
        Thank you!

  • http://www.divorcednotbroken.com Jack Adams

    Susan always has such great advice.

  • http://twitter.com/divorcedwomen A Divorced Woman

    I viewed child support as my ex paying his share of the cost of raising our children…what the courts considered his cost anyway. There were times when that support covered nothing but the necessities and times when it had to be stretched to cover the “extras.” I knew my ex well enough to know that he would not, even when ordered to, help with college expenses and the best thing I could do for myself was to put part of that support away monthly when possible.

    When I budgeted my salary child support was not part of that budget. Food, mortgage payment, car payment, utilities and such were all paid by my salary and I’m glad I did it that way because two years ago when child support stopped I didn’t miss it or experience any sort of financial burden.

    @Custody Coach, you make broad sweeping statements. In some cases child support is paid by a non-custodial parent to help with the basics. In some cases it is paid to equalize incomes. Child support is paid based on state child support laws and every state has different laws.

    In my case my children and I lived a middle class lifestyle. Their father lived far, far above the level his children did. And not once since our divorce has he paid for a birthday part, car or college. If the courts had ordered him to pay child support that afforded my children the lifestyle he lives I would have happily taken it because they deserve as good as their father has. Not me but them.

    Fox hunting? 9,000 sq.ft. home? European vacations? Please!

  • Anonymous

    @ADivorcedWomen Your situation sounds very similar to mine. We do what we can for our kids to give them the best we can afford while our ex’s live way beyond that enjoying luxuries we can’t afford.

    @JackAdams Thanks, I really appreciate it!

  • JBog

    Since this blog seems to focus on women after divorce, and since one of its stated purposes is to empower women, I feel compelled to point out that any time money is exchanged after divorce, you are disempowered. If you rely on his money, you are still dependent on him. You are still tied to him. The quality of your life — at least to a certain extent — is still dictated by him.

    On some level, your psyche gets this. Why do you think you feel so resentful, every time you see that check? Why does receiving money always make you feel icky, aggravated, angry? I know many women attribute that feeling to the fact that it’s “not enough”. Either their own finances suck, and they blame their ex, or, their lives suck (fox hunts? European vacations?), and it’s easier to pinpoint that onto all those wonderful things he seems to be doing with all that money that he’s withholding from you.

    Let me let you in on a little secret: even if your ex suddenly tripled the amount he sends, you would still experience those same feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment, and aggravation. They might even increase. Why? Because by tying yourselves together by the purse-strings, you are giving up power and control to him.

    Here’s another secret: millions of kids make it successfully to adulthood all the time without cars, parties, or even college educations handed to them. Mom, please believe in the power and value of your love, your time, your energy… independent of the size of your CS check.

    I offer myself as “Exhibit A”, but I could name dozens of women who have done what I did: we moved on. We cut ourselves free of the purse strings, built successful careers, found gifts and talents we didn’t even know we had. We re-defined ourselves, re-invented ourselves, re-educated ourselves, and we went out and took the world by storm. Some women I know still receive CS — it goes straight into a savings account, where it will pay for the big-ticket items: college, weddings, maybe even a down-payment on the kids’ first house. But these women are free, themselves.

    It’s amazing how high you can soar when you cut the purse strings.

    Women, if you took every ounce of energy you have squandered chasing down ‘that deadbeat’, or griping about his high-luxury lifestyle, or resenting his freedom… and spent that same energy on educating yourself, upgrading your credentials, networking in a professional group, receiving mentoring, studying for the exam that upgrades you to the next level in your career field– just imagine how much richer, smarter, and wiser you would be.

    And you would be that much closer to becoming truly free.

    • dabdu

      Wellllllll saidddddd

  • http://twitter.com/divorcedwomen A Divorced Woman

    JBlog, I’m not sure who you are addressing but I didn’t read anything written here by women that would indicate they have lost their power, are angry or aggravated in the least.

    I didn’t once feel any of the feelings you describe when receiving a monthly CS check from my ex. I darn sure didn’t feel tied to him in any way other than the fact that he was our children’s father. I’m sitting here cracking up at the thought that him acting financially responsible toward his children would cause me to feel uncomfortable in the least. What an outrageous concept, almost as outrageous as custody coach’s broad sweeping statements about what CS is used for.

    Just so you will know, you don’t have a monopoly on moving on. Your psyche is no healthier than mine or most of the divorced women I know. We are just as free of resentment, aggravation and “icky feelings” as you are.

    I’ve built a life and career for myself. Not a penny of my ex husband’s income paved my way. I write for The New York Times and The Huffington Post. Over the last eight years I’ve filled my life up with a career built on passion. I am a certified divorce mediator, marriage educator and divorce consultant and founder and publisher of an online magazine for divorced women. The dust doesn’t settle under my feet, never has, never will. I didn’t have to “move on” cause I was already in motion when the marriage ended.

    As for fox hunting and European vacations…I have no interest in killing a helpless fox and I lived in Europe for two years. I’ve been there done that and if I want to see it all again will do so on my own dime. Just like our children will should they ever desire to do so.

    I appreciate your concern for us poor, disenfranchised, unempowered women but really, you need to know that doing so is squandering your energy because your concern isn’t need. Or should I say your judgment without knowledge is unappreciated.

    • JBog

      Gosh, I stand corrected. You have obviously moved on, built a career, etc., just like I recommended… yet you still seem seriously pissed off. I mean scarily so. As a writer, surely you have a better understanding than a lay person such as myself — to realize that the words you write portray you as mega-pissed? do you really not see that?

      So I guess moving on, building a career, empowering yourself, cutting the purse strings didn’t actually result in you letting go of the anger. Hmmm, it’s worked that way for pretty much everyone else I know…

  • Traci

    Wow, this is definitely a touchy subject, but I’m not sure why people have such an objection to income equalization. For example, if a woman has been at home with her small children, raising them while her husband works and supports the home – how do you agree on a figure that she could have made if she were out realizing her career opportunities and working to the best of her potential? I see it in my married friends all the time – most of the moms I know hate the fact that they’re not major bread winners.

    So, when it comes time for a divorce, what is the fair way to figure out child support? In my eyes, it’s whatever makes the households equal in the sense of what they can offer the children. I don’t see it as fair if a mom has been working in the home for a number of years, then she has to suffer because she doesn’t have a traditional income. then when the children are at dad’s they have more luxuries than at mom’s? I don’t see how that could be considered fair.

    Obviously this works both ways, maybe a dad stays at home and the mom works full time. What I think is more important is that the paying parent can afford the weekly payments, and that the children are taken care of in both households. From there it’s each to his own as far as who goes out and makes a better living. Don’t assume that just because a parent gets child support that they’re sitting on the couch eating bon bons. Child support is rarely enough to make a household run without significant income coming in as well.

    • http://twitter.com/divorcedwomen A Divorced Woman

      Traci, in my opinion the only fair way to figure CS is to do so on an individual basis. There are too many things that are not taken into consideration when figuring CS using present state guidelines.

      A non-custodial parent may earn $200,000 a year BUT if he/she is paying off marital debt and having to maintain a home and lifestyle of their own these are all things that should be taken into consideration.

      I believe it is important that our children have all of what they need and quite a bit of what they want. I don’t believe that one spouse should be responsible for the lifestyle of the other spouse though.

      In a perfect word if a mother or father is able to live a great lifestyle they will share that lifestyle with their children. The big question is how do they do that without also providing for an ex spouse they should no longer be responibile for.

      • http://www.postdivorcechronicles.com PostDivorceCoach

        “I believe it is important that our children have all of what they need and quite a bit of what they want.”

        BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • http://twitter.com/MrCustodyCoach Custody Coach

          That’s an excellent point. I wonder what her point of view would be if she were the one paying a tidy sum in child support to her ex. Of the rare child support paying mothers I know, their view is much the same as what I discuss here.

          Bravo to them, too, for realizing the difficult financial realities as a child support payor… something some child support receivers never have the misfortune of having to face.

        • JBog

          I find it very interesting (and enlightening) that so many custodial parents (okay, can we just get honest here, and say “women”?) are ultra-eager to promote the idea that their children enjoy the benefit of having all of their “needs” and most of their wants supplied as well… and gosh golly, why no, they don’t personally want to benefit from the largesse of their children’s father, why no, no, not at all, it’s just for the kids…but gee whiz, how on earth are they going to separate that upgraded lifestyle that their children should rightfully enjoy, from their own lifestyle? Just cannot think of a way to get that done, can they?

          Except of course, the obvious solution is sitting right there in front of them: Custodial Moms, if you truly cannot support your children in high-class style, and their father can, then why not hand over custody to him? If you truly have your children’s best interests at heart, why are you clinging fiercely to custody? Why not support the very scenario you claim is the one you want: children with access to a better lifestyle than the one you can provide.

          This is why applaud women like Sophia, who posts frequently on this blog. She had the guts to get honest about what would best for her kids. She takes hit after hit, socially, when people assume she’s a “bad” mother — when in truth, she is one of the best mothers out there.

          I’m not saying her solution is right for everyone. I am saying her honesty is super-refreshing, her courage is inspiring, and I for one would like to see more of that kind of honesty and courage come to a post-divorce forum, instead of all the same old whining from women who cannot seem to siphon enough money out ofntheir ex-husbands, and continue on and on pretending it’s “for the kids”.

          • http://www.postdivorcechronicles.com PostDivorceCoach

            Considering I found Sophia and had the foresight to ask her to post regularly on my site, I am going to take what you said as a backwards compliment. And, I agree, which is why she is posting here. All sides should be heard, seen and read.

          • JBog

            Lee, take it as a “forwards” compliment. I’m proud of women who have the courage to pioneer into unknown or relatively un-populated territory. That includes those who are willing to use a public forum to elevate a little-known or unpopular point of view, so that others can be enlightened.

      • Traci

        Yes, I believe we are agreeing. In my case my ex and I split our debt, but I understand that is not always the case. My only point is that a lot of women sacrifice careers to be at home, and there is no cut and dry way to compensate for that. I certainly believe you are correct when you say it needs to be handled on an individual basis.

  • http://twitter.com/divorcedwomen A Divorced Woman

    JBlog, why do you feel a need to assign feelings to other people? People like you frustrate me but pissed, no I’m not pissed and especially not “scarily so.” I’m frustrated because I’m being accused of being angry just because my opinion differs from your opinion.

    Here is what I know. It is not my place to tell others how they are feeling. I would never be arrogant enough to state that women who receive CS feel icky, aggravated or resentful toward their ex.

    You see, I understand that just because something is right for me does not mean it is right for all women. Or just because I might feel a certain way about a situation that all women should feel the same and if they don’t then they must be angry or lack power.

    I would NEVER take it for granted that receiving CS “always makes” a woman experience a negative feeling. Why? Because I am of the realization that what one woman feels is different from what another may feel. Or, the way I live my life is not the way all women should live their lives.

    And, I would never put anyone down for feeling…regardless of what she is feeling. I believe in validating people’s feelings, not dismissing them. My job is to empower women, not to put them down or disempower them and in my opinion that is what you do when you assign feelings.

    I don’t know anything about you other than what you have written here. I hope that you have been able to let go and move on. I do know that if you have, you did it in your own way and by now you surely have enough understanding to know that just because others don’t share your opinion doesn’t make them wrong or angry or resentful. It just makes them different, that’s all.

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  • http://twitter.com/GeorgeMcCasland George R. McCasland

    One thing to note is that in determining who gets the tax deduction for the children should not be decided based on who has the children, but rather on who earns the most. This can work out for both parents gaining.
    http://childsupportrights.org/ChildSupportNTaxes

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