Child support comes in two flavors—direct and indirect. Child support is when one parent pays support to the other parent directly on a regular basis—every week, every other week, or every month. Indirect child support, on the other hand, involves payments made to third parties for expenses such as school tuition, camp, lessons, after-school activities, and healthcare costs.
Whether you are the custodial parent or are involved in a joint custodial arrangement, if your ex has been ordered to pay child support, you might wonder whether you're better off receiving a larger amount of direct support and paying the third parties yourself or letting your former spouse make those payments and getting less direct support. Conceptually, it is nearly always better to receive sufficient funds directly. It's about more than money; it is a question of control. When you write the check to the school or camp yourself, the decision-making is in your hands. Yet the subject warrants a bit more thought.If you are the parent receiving funds, choosing to receive direct or indirect support has its pros and cons:
|If your former spouse pays the third party directly and those expenses increase he or she will pay the increase.||If what you receive includes amounts to be paid to the third parties, and the costs of those third-party expenses rise, you might have to bear the increase.|
|Some former spouses will be more reliable if they are paying third-party expenses directly because they feel more involved in their children's lives.||Some spouses will be less reliable if they are obligated to pay the third-party expenses. You will have to chase your former spouse for payment while the third parties are hounding you.|
|If you're obligated to figure third-party expenses into your direct payment, your former spouse will probably bear the cost of the increase.||If you pay the third parties, you'll bear the cost of any increases.|
|You might feel more in control and more directly involved with your children if you pay third-party expenses.||If you give your former spouse money to pay third parties and he or she doesn't make the payments, the third parties might chase you.|
If you are the parent paying child support, you can negotiate a smaller amount of maintenance, also known as spousal support, in return for a larger child support payment. Bear in mind that your child support obligation, depending on the ages of your children, can last for many more years than maintenance. Alternatively, if your children are teens when you divorce, child support may end while alimony can go on and on. Remember, too, that there's no tax deduction for child support, whereas maintenance is usually tax-deductible.
How do you decide whether direct or indirect support is right for you? If a judge decides your case after a trial, you'll have no choice; whatever the judge decides goes. If you're settling your case, on the other hand, you can compromise. If your former spouse is the noncustodial parent (or a custody partner with greater income) and is reliable, you're probably better off having him or her pay the expenses directly to the third party to avoid responsibility for increases in big-ticket items, such as school tuition. If your former spouse is unreliable or disagrees with you about signing up your child for an activity, you're better off receiving more child support and paying these extra costs yourself. The point of child support is to enable the child to enjoy the lifestyle of the wealthier parent. If that has a benefit to the ex, so be it.
One of the most frequent questions lawyers get from their noncustodial clients is “Why can't I pay child support directly to my child?” (So what if the child is two years old!) “Why can't I set up an account so I know the money is being used for the kids?” The real question being asked is, “Isn't my spouse the one benefiting from the child support?”
The truth is, your ex is benefiting, to a degree. If your former spouse pays the rent with child support, of course, he or she is also benefiting. The same goes for the phone, electricity, cable TV, and even food. Let's face it, your ex isn't going to buy steak for the kids and hamburger for himself or herself.