California law defines child support as the expenditures necessary to cover the living and medical expenses of a child. Under this definition, parents must support a child until age 18, or until age 19 if the child is still in high school. California courts may require ongoing child support payments from one or both parents.
In terms of living expenses, child support covers basic expenses such as shelter, clothing, food, child care and educational expenses. Shelter expenses may include utilities and mortgage or rent payments, even if other household members share the residence with the child. Other expenses such as music lessons, extracurricular activities and entertainment may also fall under the category of expenses that can be paid for with child support funds.
Child support also covers medical expenses. A court may require one parent to include a child in a health insurance plan. However, other expenses beyond insurance-covered items may also be financed through child support. For example, corrective lenses or braces may not be covered by an insurance policy, but they could be paid for with child support funds. In addition, catastrophic injuries, surgeries and chronic health conditions may incur costs that exceed the caps of health insurance policies; these expenses are likewise payable through child support, but courts may order special joint payment provisions for these so-called extraordinary medical expenses.
Family law attorneys can advise parents on the appropriateness of paying for specific items with child support funds. For instance, a family law attorney can suggest the best strategies for structuring financial support for certain one-time expenses or significant child care costs; in some cases, it may be preferable for a parent to seek a court order rather than relying on child support payments to finance large-ticket expenses.