Splitsville: What Can I Use My Child Support For?

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

The short answer to this question is: anything you damn well please. Women should not have to justify where or why they spend child support money. The depiction of a woman getting pregnant just to scam child support off some unsuspecting and totally innocent man is complete and utter bullshit. Single motherhood is not easy. It’s not some money boat where you don’t have to work because a man will support you and your children for the rest of your lives. In 2001, the average child support awarded to custodial parents was $5,000 a year. That’s about $415 a month. Just for comparison, I pay $500 a month in daycare costs. And plenty of mothers never see the amount promised to them by the courts.

Child support is supposed to be a way for non-custodial parents to help with the cost of raising a child. It’s disgusting the way some men try to characterize the mothers  of their children as simply stealing their money away to live a life of luxury. As a parent, its your responsibility to help provide for your children.

This should be where the argument ends. Yet because this horrible stereotype of single mothers exists, I’ve always felt the need to justify where my child support goes. I find myself explaining to my daughter’s father about doctors bills or summer camps. “We’re going to need summer clothes. She’s just gotten too tall. So part of this month’s money will go to new clothes.” I thought that explaining where the money is going would help to prevent the resentment that support-paying fathers can feel. I wanted to explain to him how this money was helping his daughter. Maybe then, he would pay it more regularly?

But my explanations were misguided and unnecessary. Resentment of child support isn’t actually about the child. It’s only about money. No matter how I explained my expenses, my daughter’s father made snide comments about my new car. How on earth could I afford it? I must be doing fine. For a while, I saved my child support payments in a college fund.  I didn’t spend them at all. College savings is a necessary expense and I considered it a good plan for my support money. Who could resent saving the money for college? But college wasn’t the issue either. Child support will always be his money that he has to give away. There’s no way for me to make him feel better about it if he only looks at the dollar signs and not what they do for his daughter.

I think child support is a little like taxes. People want the benefits without paying anything. They want to be a parent without providing for their children, just like they want a better education system while reducing teachers’ salaries. The money is necessary, as long as it doesn’t have to come from your pocket. In the end I’ve realized, it doesn’t matter what I do with my child support. Everything is coming from the same pot. If I use child support to pay a doctor’s bill, I’ll have more money to buy my daughter new clothes. If the money goes into her college savings, its less money that I need to deduct from my check for her college savings. The expenses of raising a child rarely change. And parents, the real ones who provide for their children no matter how much support comes in, make the tough decisions to take care of their children no matter what the cost is.