Child support is typically calculated to cover the basic living expenses of the child, but in most cases, it is entirely up to the receiving parent how to spend the funds. A parent may choose to set aside the received child support payments and earmark them specifically for purchases for the child, or intermingle them with the household funds used to pay rent, grocery and utility bills.
State Law Requirements
Child support laws vary from state to state, but most are not specific regarding exactly how the recipient--usually the custodial parent--must spend that money. The intention of child support laws and guidelines is to ensure that the money is available to be spent for the child's benefit, but courts generally do not intercede to mandate how the money be spent unless there is an extreme situation of neglect or evidence of criminal activity. Monitoring how child support is spent separately from the general family coffers is simply too complex and subjective for time-burdened courts to attempt.
Basic child support calculations are designed to determine each parent's share of the child's food, clothing and shelter needs. Expenditures for the food and shelter components of child support are hard to track because members of the custodial parent's household ordinarily share common grocery bills, utility bills, and rent or mortgage payments without allotting specific amounts to specific individuals. The basic child support calculations, which vary among states, typically take into account both parents' income as well as the relative amount of time the child spends in each parent's household.
Medical Care and Educational Expenses
Some states include health insurance, uninsured medical expenses and work-related child care in their basic child support calculations. Other states may designate a payment for medical expenses, child care, and education-related expenses, like tutoring or tuition, over and above the basic child support calculation. Lessons in particular art, sport or music activities at which the child shows aptitude may be deemed a necessary part of the child's education, and the non-custodial parent may be ordered to contribute to the cost of those lessons.
The expense for extracurricular activities -- such as school sports programs, summer camps and field trips -- are typically paid by the mutual agreement of the parents, often divided into a percentage based on their respective incomes. If the parents can't reach an agreement, a mediator or judge can decide whether to intercede and issue an order relative to payment for extracurricular activities, based on the parents' incomes and the child's needs.