Must child support be used on something specific? Figuratively speaking, yes; technically speaking, no. While this might seem a hard pill to swallow, and it is, the courts do not designate the expenses upon which child support must be spent. It is automatically assumed that the child support will be spent on the children's individual and household needs, and the court will not detail out what expenses, specifically, child support must cover.
A Safe Assumption
Maine family law takes into account the children's best interests first when a couple decides to divorce and separate their family. The designation of custodial versus non-custodial parent, visitation rights, and monetary support is all determined by what is best for the children; this includes the amount of child support the non-custodial parent will be required to pay.
Before the divorce agreement is finalized and child support is awarded, the court will look at the following:
- the combined gross income of each parent to determine the financial condition of the marriage prior to separation
- the number of children within the marriage and the age of each child, as older children often require more support due to additional expenses
- the percentage of child support each parent would be responsible for based upon his or her individual income, i.e. the higher earning parent will be responsible for a higher percentage of the child support
- the percentage of time the children spend with each parent and custodial versus non-custodial designations
To explain further, the purpose of child support is to ensure that both parents remain obligated to fulfil their financial responsibilities toward their children, even when one parent loses custodianship. Additionally, child support is issued to ensure that the children are able to continue to maintain the quality of life they held while the family was intact. And, of course, child support is issued to ensure that each child's needs remain met even after divorce.
Why It's Not Monitored
With this said, it can be argued that when a custodial parent uses child support for household expenses, this is not necessarily a misuse of the funds. The children are living with the custodial parent a majority of the time, if not full-time, and the support payments can be used to ensure the roof over their heads and its related expenses. Yes, it would seem that child support should go to actual provisions for the children, such as their clothing, food, and so on, but as long as the money is contributing to the overall success of the household, it's hard to argue that the payments are being mishandled.
This is one reason why the courts do not monitor what the custodial parent is actually paying with their child support payments. It is assumed that the money is supporting the household in which the children live, based upon the percentage of income calculated and the percentage of income needed and, thereby, contributing, as it should be, to the children's well-being. If the custodial parent needed X-amount of dollars to maintain a home and the children's expenses, that's most likely what the money is being used for once received.
This does not mean, however, that your ex-spouse isn't abusing your child support payments, and there certainly are questionable uses of the money that should put up a red flag. If your ex calls you constantly asking for additional money to cover clothing, shoes, education expenses, recreational expenses and so on, you might not necessarily have a misuse of child support funds in occurrence. The court understands that there are expenses related to children beyond what the award will cover, and your ex-spouse has the right to ask you to cover those, as well, or at least help with them.
Assume for a moment, however, that your children come over to visit and you're noticing more and more that they aren't looking well. Perhaps they're losing weight and their clothes are horribly tattered. In fact, it looks as if their general provisions aren't being met at all, and they're starving, unclean, unhealthy and otherwise compromised. This, of course, sends up a huge red flag that something is seriously wrong, and you need to contact child services to determine what is going on in their custodial household.
If it is determined that your ex is neglecting your children, and using the child support payments for something else, such as a drug or alcohol dependency or a gambling or shopping addiction, then yes, you do have recourse to ask the court to intervene because your child support payments are being abused. It certainly also appears that your children should no longer remain in your ex-spouse's custody, and you will need to petition the court for full custody.
This part of Maine's family law is very gray. The court will not dictate exactly what child support must pay except under extenuating circumstances. If you believe your child support payments are being mishandled, contact the office. They have expansive knowledge in family law and can help you determine whether court action is needed in your family law matter.