How Can Child Support Payments Be Used in California?

In California, child support should be used to pay for the ongoing living expenses of the child until they turn 18 (or if they’re still in high school until they either turn 19 or graduate). Sometimes people think support payments only pay for things directly related to the child, such as their clothing or toys.

But child support is defined as including a much more comprehensive array of expenses that directly or indirectly benefit the child. These include items such as rent or mortgages, utility bills, food, education, childcare, transportation (including gas for a car), extracurricular activities and basic forms of entertainment (movies, internet service), and medical care or health insurance costs. So if the ex uses child support payments to cover the rent or utility bills or puts gas in the car to drive the child somewhere, they’re within their legal rights.

Can My Ex Be Required to Provide Documentation of How They Spend the Child Support Payments?

Not in California. Custodial parents legally do not have to provide documentation of how the funds are spent. This can be frustrating, especially if the spouse makes what seems to be an extravagant purchase for themselves with no benefit to the child upon receiving a child support payment.

However, the ex may have had to pay for some child-related expenses out of pocket while waiting for the child support funding to arrive.

What Does It Take to Prove Misuse of Child Support Funds?

Just because your ex isn’t required to provide documentation of how child support payments are used, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a legal avenue to learn if your ex is misusing funding. The California courts look for how the child is cared for in these cases. Are their basic needs (both physical and emotional) being met? If not, you may have a case for child neglect and/or child abuse. Here are some signs that your ex may not be using child support properly that could lead to the courts revisiting the custody and support rulings.

  • Changes in appearance and hygiene. Children, especially younger children or those involved in athletics, are often going to be sweaty or dirty. But if the child seems to be sweaty and dirty most of the time, even to the point of emitting a foul odor, when they used to be reasonably clean, they may be neglected. This can include wearing clothes that don’t appear to be laundered.
  • Wearing clothing that’s clearly too small or is inappropriate for the season. An example is a child who doesn’t have a proper winter coat in a cold climate in January.
  • The child is unusually hungry, or you learn that the child’s school lunch account ran out and hasn’t been refilled in spite of multiple reminders. Another sign of inadequate food is if the child is in a period of life where they should be growing but appear to lose weight instead.
  • The child has medical or dental issues that could have been prevented through regular checkups or treated by a medical or dental appointment. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your child’s medical records (which you, as the other parent, have the right to see) to ensure the child is getting the recommended well visits and vaccinations along with additional appointments for illness or injury.
  • School records could indicate if the ex is not fulfilling the responsibility of making sure the child receives an education by getting them to school regularly.
  • Pay attention to changes in behavior or emotional states. If the child becomes unusually clingy or shows signs of depression or anxiety, it’s a good idea to see a doctor to determine if there’s something more going on than a normal stage of life.

This is a delicate, complex situation. Working with an attorney not only brings experience to the case but also helps take some of the burdens of proof off your shoulders.

How Can I Prove My Child is Being Neglected?

This can be difficult. The best is to have video, photo, or audio proof. That could be photos showing your child has lost weight (from potentially being underfed) or is in worn, dirty, or too-small clothes. You could interview witnesses (but for various legal reasons, it’s highly recommended that you involve an experienced child support and custody attorney when attempting to collect any evidence, especially if it’s being recorded, to avoid running afoul of privacy laws), including parents of your child’s friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, or religious leaders that have interaction with the child.

Other avenues to collect evidence include school records (report cards showing declines in grades, school absences, unusual changes in behavior), medical records, reports from coaches that the child has begun missing practice regularly, or any descriptions of changes in behavior and emotional state.

What Should I Do if I Suspect My Ex Isn’t Using the Child Support Payments Appropriately?

Call the Sarieh Law Offices at 949-828-2267 (Newport Beach) or 714-694-7723 (Santa Ana) for a free 30-minute in-depth case evaluation. We understand that your child’s well-being is critically important to you, and you want to ensure child support payments are being used for their best interests. We can walk you through what you need to know and what steps to take next.