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What does child support cover?

Child support is one of the biggest concerns in divorce and custody cases. Yet many misconceptions and questions remain about what child support is and what expenses it covers.

First, the basics: Courts calculate child support according to guidelines passed into law by the state legislature. These guidelines, which are largely based on the net income of the parents and the number of children involved, are meant to provide for the food, shelter and expenses associated with raising a child.

A common concern voiced by the parent paying child support is the way in which child support payments are spent. For the receiving parent, the main concern might be whether all of the costs associated with raising a child, such as child care, extra-curricular and miscellaneous fees and other costs, are covered under court ordered child support. The non-payment of child support is also a recurring issue.

Below are the answers to three commonly asked questions regarding child support.

1. What happens if I suspect my ex-spouse is spending the money on personal items, rather than for the benefit of children?

Courts do not ask for an accounting of how child support payments are spent.

The paying parent does not have the legal right to obtain receipts or other accounting of how child support money is spent. Courts do not like to insert themselves into a dispute of this nature. That means unless your children are not having their basic needs met regarding food, shelter and clothing, courts will not analyze or audit spending habits.

2. My ex is asking for additional money, even though I already wrote the child support check for the full amount. Do I have to pay?

Child support does not cover - nor is it intended to cover - every expense your child has. Your child may be involved in extracurricular activities, for example, or may need braces as a teenager. These may be additional expenses not provided by child support. Depending on the court order, parenting plan agreement, and other factors, both parents may have to provide for reasonable costs not covered by the monthly child support obligation

3. What happens if a payor does not make payments?

Serious consequences can arise from a failure to pay child support.

The law takes child support obligations seriously. A failure to pay can result in the court issuing a contempt of court order against the party who has failed to pay. The court and state agencies, such as the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the New Hampshire Division of Child Support Services, can garnish (take) wages, seize assets, revoke drivers' licenses and other occupational licenses, and use a host of other enforcement techniques.

If you are a payor struggling financially, contact an attorney about whether you may be able to obtain a child support modification. A job loss, demotion, medical expenses and other significant changes in circumstances can lead to a change in child support obligations.

If you are a payee, and are not receiving court ordered child support, contact an attorney about your options for enforcement.

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