Where Does All That Money Go? Child Support, Spending and Extracurricular Expenses
Colorado law is not specific concerning how a parent receiving child support is supposed to use the money. Child support is generally determined by a formula. The formula is supposed to calculate child support based upon the parents’ combined adjusted gross income estimated to have been allocated to the child if the parents and children were living in an intact household; adjust the child support based upon the needs of the children for extraordinary medical expenses and work-related child care costs; and allocate the amount of child support to be paid by each parent based upon physical care arrangements.
The Court will not make any specific orders concerning how the child support money is supposed to be spent. It is presumed under Colorado law that the child support money is used for the benefit of the child, but the law does not require a specific showing by the parent receiving support concerning where each dollar is spent. However, Colorado law does allow the issue to be discussed by the parties, after permanent orders in a divorce case are entered.
After the permanent orders are entered, there might be a requirement for an annual exchange of financial information, to try to determine if child support should be modified. Colorado law says that if the paying parent believes the child support money is not being used for the child, the parent paying child support can ask for mediation, at his own expense. However, that’s the extent of the help provided by law- there’s nothing in the law that says a Judge or Magistrate has any authority to do anything else, other than order mediation.
There may of course be extreme situations where a parent receiving child support is not spending the money on the child, and something can be done about it. For example, if a parent were addicted to drugs, and the child was starving, homeless and/or otherwise neglected, it is possible that the Court would order a change in physical custody and a corresponding change in child support. But if the parent receiving the child support is simply buying nice things, going on vacations, going out at night a few nights a week and spending money on entertainment, recreation, etc., and if the child’s other basic needs are being met (food, clothing, housing, medical needs), it is not likely that a Judge or Magistrate will deviate from the child support guidelines by making specific orders about how child support should be spent and reducing the amount of child support.
Extracurricular activities are usually paid by the parties in some proportion based on incomes, or on a 50/50 basis – when the parties agree to incur the expense. Extracurricular activities are not currently defined under Colorado law for purposes of child support, so parties should be sure to include a definition in their settlement documents (for example, “‘Extracurricular activities’ may include but are not limited to activities that are associated with school such as band, sports and clubs, and activities that are not associated with school such as sports, music lessons, and summer camps.”). If the parties don’t agree to include special arrangements for extracurricular activity expenses, the Court might order that the activity should be an addition to the basic child support obligation. For example, an ongoing competitive sports program (figure skating, soccer) lasting many years may be considered an educational expense for the child, and may be added to the basic child support obligation.
Specificity in a Parenting Plan or Separation Agreement or in Permanent Orders entered by the Court will help limit future disagreements about the use of child support, and payment for extracurricular activity expenses.