Many parents are concerned that child support payments are not being spent responsibly by the custodial guardian. This is an understandable concern. After all, it goes without saying that child support payments should be spent to ensure the well-being of the child. A parent who uses this money for frivolous and self-serving expenses is obviously guilty of a major ethical misstep. Many child support providers are concerned that custodial parents are simply living off child support payments while making no effort to get a job. Is there any real way for a non-custodial parent to actually find out whether child support payments are being spent in a responsible manner? 

Custodial Parents Have a Legal Responsibility to Act in Their Child’s Best Interests

All custodial parents have a legal responsibility to act in their child’s best interests. This means that they must spend their child support money on expenses related to the child. These may include things like:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Medical care
  • School costs
  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Entertainment
  • College tuition

With all that said, there is nothing that really forces custodial parents to use child support money specifically for these expenses. It is generally accepted that custodial parents are “strongly encouraged” to use their child support funds for child-related expenses, and there is no real oversight in place. 

Most States Do Not Require Parents to Reveal How They Use Child Support Funds

In addition, most states do not require parents to reveal how they are using child support funds. In these states, there are relatively few situations in which they could ever face any real consequences for misusing the funds. The only real exception is if there is clear evidence of child abuse or neglect. A subsequent investigation may reveal that a child is going hungry or improperly clothed (despite the custodial parent receiving more than enough to cover these expenses in child support payments). 

There are 10 states that provide some sort of legal pathway to overseeing the expenditure of child support payments:

  • Courts in Louisiana, Delaware, Missouri, and Indiana can force the custodial parent to reveal how they are spending child support funds if there is clear reason to believe they are misusing the money. The non-custodial parent must prove that there is good reason to believe this is happening, and this is often difficult to do. 
  • Courts in Florida and Oregon can order a custodial parent to reveal how they are spending the money at their discretion.
  • Courts in Washington and Oklahoma have written laws that state a custodial parent may be required to submit a report showing that child support payments are actually serving the child’s best interests.
  • Courts in Colorado can refer these disputes to a mediator. During the mediation, custodial parents may be required to account for their expenses.

Information is Revealed After a Petition for Modification

Non-custodial parents who are concerned about this issue can also simply request a modification for child support. If they believe that funds are being misused, they can claim that these constitute a “significant change” in the factors of the original child support agreement. If the court agrees, then the non-custodial parent will be required to submit financial documentation that could reveal the truth of the matter.