by Brette McWhorter Sember
For most divorced families, custody and visitation were set up simultaneously with child support. Because these things all have to do with your child and where he or she lives, they are intertwined in your mind. Somehow, you see them all as part of a package. But these two things should not be seen as dependent on each other or related.
The truth is that the time your child spends with both of you has nothing to do with child support. Custody is only the preliminary factor in setting up child support. The non-custodial parent must pay it to the custodial parent. But beyond that, what happens with your parenting plan has no impact on child support.
Many parents believe that child support should somehow be adjusted to account for time the child spends with the non-custodial parent. After all, they reason, when the child is with that parent, he or she is in charge of meeting the child's needs and if the non-custodial parent has the child for an entire week in the summer, there shouldn’t be any child support being paid for that week.
Wrong! It doesn't matter if the non-custodial parent spends one day a week or 7 days a week with the child, child support is not affected.
Child support is a set amount that only fluctuates when it is increased or decreased by court order. The amount of time each of you spends with your child does not affect it, unless you have a complete change in custody, or go to a shared parenting plan where you each have equal time with your child.
The way you share medical, educational, and other expenses also does not change based on your parenting schedule, and if you are the one that takes your child to the doctor and the other parent is the one who is responsible for medical costs, he or she should reimburse you for the expense.
Another important point to remember is that a custodial parent can't refuse or cut back on visitation if child support hasn't been paid. Sometimes custodial parents feel as if this is an effective way of getting the other parent to pay. It can definitely feel unfair to watch the other parent get to be the fun parent in your child's eyes while he or she continues to shirk financial responsibilities. It can be tempting to use visitation time as a weapon since you know it is something that is important to the other parent and is something that you can easily control.
But your child needs time with the other parent as well as financial support from him or her. Stopping one to get the other isn't fair to your child. Nonpayment of child support has to be dealt with through the courts and even if the other parent is a complete deadbeat in terms of financial support, he or she still has an important role in your child’s life and should not be prevented from filling it.
It can be hard to keep parenting issues and money matters separate, but doing so will allow you to prevent financial problems from interfering with your relationships with your child.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of: