How to Budget for Child Support

How to Plan Ahead Each Month, Whether You Receive or Owe Child Support

A parent writes a child support check
Learn how to budget for child support each month. © bluestocking

Whether you receive child support or owe it each month, there's no denying that it's a big factor in the budgeting process. Use the following tips to plan ahead and budget for child support in a way that works for you:

How to Budget for Child Support When You Receive It

Managing your money as a single parent is a huge responsibility. Use the following tips to help you manage child support income more effectively:

  • Create a budget and stick to it. Ideally, you'll want to create a monthly budget based on your income alone. This way, any child support money you receive is extra. It's still your child's money, but it can go toward future expenses like next month's groceries or your child's education.
  • Spend your money wisely. Remember that there’s no law that dictates how you have to spend the child support money you receive. But it makes good financial sense to spend it wisely—especially if you tend to receive the money inconsistently. In addition, avoid spending child support money on anything that your ex could later say was "for you," like clothing for yourself or salon visits. Even though your ex can't dictate how you spend child support money, it's not worth the hassle of having to later argue about or defend your purchases.
  • Estimate what you spend per month on raising your children. Don't forget to factor in housing, food, clothing, medical expenses, and activities. You do not have to give this list to anyone—including your ex and the court. However, it can be helpful to know approximately how much money you spend on your kids each month. Chances are, it's probably a lot more than you're receiving in child support. (See Child Support Statistics in the U.S.)
  • Request a child support modification if your circumstances have changed. Has your income decreased, or has your ex's income significantly increased? Has your child's medical expenses or the cost of extra-curricular activities gone up? It may be time to formally request a child support modification through the courts.

    How to Budget for Child Support When You Owe It

    Whether child support is court-ordered or you have an informal agreement with your ex, use the following tips to budget for child support and set the money aside each month:

    • Don't even count the money as income. Your "income" is the amount of money you earn, minus taxes, minus child support. It's harsh, but there's no way to budget for child support without recognizing this reality.
    • Establish a regular method of payment. If child support money is not being garnished from your paycheck, you'll need to set up regular payments so that the money is paid each month without delay. You can do this through your bank or through your local Office of Child Support Enforcement.
    • Pay at least some money each month. Even if you can't pay the full amount of child support you owe, make sure that you pay some of the total each month. This will help you avoid some of the harshest consequences for non-payment, such as having your license revoked or even being incarcerated.
    • Formally request a child support modification when warranted. Either parent can request a modification, so if your circumstances have changed and you can not afford to pay, reach out to your local Office of Child Support Enforcement to request a modification. Even if they don't grant it, your request will be on record.