When parents are not living in the same household, it is typical for one parent to pay child support to the other. Confusion arises as parents attempt to figure out what that child support payment is intended to cover and what it is not.

The Indiana Child Support Guidelines define three categories of expense incurred by parents in raising children: transferred expenses, duplicated expenses and controlled expenses. Transferred expenses are incurred only by the parent caring for the child on a particular day. In other words, these expenses stay with the children and are transferred back and forth. Expenses in this category include food and transportation costs. Duplicated expenses are incurred by both parents regardless of the parenting time schedule. The cost of proving a home with sufficient space for the children during parenting time is an example of a duplicated cost since both parents must incur such a cost.

The last category of costs is called controlled expenses. These expenses are paid by the custodial parent (the one with primary physical custody). These expenses include clothing, education, school books and supplies, uninsured medical expenses and personal care expenses. The child support guidelines give the example of a winter coat, which is purchased by the custodial parent. The non custodial parent does not purchase another one to be used during his or her parenting time. Instead, the child wears one coat all season.

In truth, the child support payment takes into account all these expenses. It is therefore appropriate to use child support to meet any of these different categories of expenses. There is no requirement that child support dollars be spend directly on the child. Instead the child support dollars can be put into a single account with parental earnings which are used to pay house and utility costs or other expenses of the household.

The confusion for parents often arises when certain expenses come due during the year. Common areas of disagreement relate to public school fees and school supplies. These are clearly defined in the guidelines as controlled expenses which the custodial parent pays. He or she may use child support dollars to assist, but the non custodial parent does not make a separate payment for school expenses. The same goes for clothing.

Extracurricular expenses are defined by the child support guidelines as extraordinary expenses which do not fit into any of the other expense categories. The child support payment made by the non custodial parent does not cover these expenses and an additional contribution is generally made.

If you are having disagreements with your co-parent about certain expenses, the first place to look is to your court order to see if there is specific language about that expense. If not, consider talking with an attorney to get some guidance.