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Are there rules for how I can spend child support?

It is a common misconception that parents can only use child support to pay for a child's most basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. The truth is that you, as a recipient parent in California, can use child support for any and all costs associated with raising your child, including those related to entertainment, sports, extracurricular activities, child care, medical care and even vacations.

The section of California's Family Code regarding child support does not specify for what child support should and should not be used. The code does state, however, that children should enjoy the same standard of living at both parent's homes, and therefore, that a recipient parent may use the money to improve his or her standard of living. The theory behind this is that by improving one's standard of living subsequently improves the life of the child. For instance, if child support makes it possible for you to take your child on vacation, you may use the support money to fund the getaway.  

Bearing that in mind, you should NOT use child support to pay for your own entertainment or wants. Though there is currently no system in place that monitors parents' spending habits, it is the general consensus that recipient parents should not use child support payments to pay for items that solely benefit him or her. Some such expenses include the following:  

  •       Salon services or clothing for the parent
  •       Alcohol, tobacco, tattoos and other vices
  •       Dining out or going on vacation without the child

None of the aforementioned items benefit the child either directly or indirectly, and if the payee suspects that you are using the funds for your own benefit, he or she can file a complaint with the court. However, unless there are signs that indicate that you are neglecting your child's needs, it is unlikely that the court will pursue further action. That said, you should only use support payments for expenses that benefit the child.

The information in this post is meant to serve as guidelines for how to use child support payments. It should not be interpreted as legal advice.  

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