Children don’t live on bread alone. What does child support include and how is it calculated?

Lawyers like us who work in family law receive daily queries from clients who wish to separate from a current partner with whom they’ve had children. In most cases, these children tend to still be minors.
 
It’s important to emphasize the point that in all family proceedings, if there are minor children, an amount of child support must be established derived from every parent’s obligation to support their child until they are financially independent. Below, we will see that child support not only covers food, but is legally a broader concept.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the child support that must established for children or teens is a common source of conflict between couples who are in the process of separating.

Arguments tend to focus on the amount of child support, but it is no less important to make clear what needs it must cover. And finally, the necessary amount will vary depending on what is understood to be covered by this allowance.

New conflicts often arise between parents due to not having specified the scope of the allowance. It is not uncommon for one parent to claim half the expenses they have borne alone from the other, even though those expenses should have been included in the child support.

Specifying what needs this allowance must cover may initially be another point of contention which makes it difficult to reach an agreement. However, an agreement between the parties will be useless if the agreed-upon amount is subsequently insufficient, and what must be covered wasn’t specified.

Both the Spanish civil code and the Catalan civil code stipulate regarding the content of child support that it strictly covers the minor’s housing, clothing, medical care and educational needs. The problem lies in determining what happens with the minor’s expenses that don’t perfectly fit into one of these categories. 

Are extracurricular activities part of the minor’s education? What about field trips or school supplies? If the minor has a food allergy, should it affect the food covered by the child support? Or should the additional expense the allergy entails be added?

Case law has been expanding upon the content of child support. The following rulings must be highlighted: Spanish Supreme Court rulings on March 11, 2010 (EDJ 2010/16360), and in lower case law, rulings from the Provincial Court of Barcelona on September 29, 2011 (EDJ 2011/241750), September 6, 2011 (EDJ 2011/236902), May 10, 2010 (EDJ 2010/151206), May 14, 2010 (EDJ 2010/153916) and March 19, 2010 (EDJ 2010/64050). In regards to tuition and school expenses, we must expressly mention ruling 579/2014 of 15 October, from the First Chamber, Reporting Judge: The Honorable Mr. José Luis Calvo Cabello.

In a simplified manner, we can understand that the minor’s expenses that are predictable and repeated over time will be included in the child support, while we will essentially find unpredictable expenses to be one-time expenses. 

In each specific case, calculating the minor’s expenses will be the first step in calculating the allowance. They are summarized below:
 
  • In principle, housing expenses will be simple to prove. We consider expenses involved in maintaining the home (rental or mortgage payment, taxes, community expenses and other associated fees) and utilities (water, electricity and gas).
 
  • As for food and clothing needs, it is more difficult to determine and prove an amount. Shopping receipts are a good starting point, in which we try to gather those corresponding to a full month and extrapolate the result to the rest of the months. Bank transaction statements showing the family’s expenses can also be helpful. It is also important to include school cafeteria fees in this item (if the minor uses this service), as well as listing any one-time expense that may arise from the minor’s specific conditions.
 
  • In regards to clothing, we can estimate the cost of a complete set of clothing, not including shoes, which usually exceed the value of the rest of the clothing. We estimate this expense by speculating on the number of sets of clothing and shoes the minor will need in one year. We know that children grow, and need a permanent change of clothing and shoes each season.

Finally, in regards to education, it’s not enough to consider the monthly fees for the school the minor attends. Extracurricular activities that the minor participated in prior to and during the couple’s breakup, school supplies (usually annual, therefore predictable and repeated over time), and field trips or activities in the curriculum will also be included in this category.
All these expenses should be relatively easy to prove, although some must be estimated using available data, as in the case of previous years’ field trips.
 
In regards to the previous points, we should note that with expenses that are difficult to individualize (such as housing or food), we must consider the number of people living with the minor. To obtain a figure that is a close as possible to the actual figure, we attribute the corresponding percentage of the family unit’s total expenses to the minor.

Once the minor’s needs have been determined, the next step is to calculate the incomes and the necessary and essential expenses of both parents. In regards to these expenses, note that the parent’s other alimony obligations, child support expenses for other children, and those expenses necessary to continue their economic activity will be especially important.

Beyond this list, calculations made by the courts usually reserve a basic minimum for the parents’ own maintenance.

In a manner similar to the minor’s expenses, we must prove those expenses that exceed “the usual”, always with the caution that the expenses of the person paying the allowance be consistent with their financial capacity and standard of living, or essential to support them and those who depend on them. Otherwise, we run the risk of them not being taken into consideration.

Combining the minor’s expenses and the assessment of each parent’s income/expenses, it shouldn’t be too complicated to reach a fair distribution of child support necessary for the minor. In this distribution, we also consider those expenses which, benefiting the minor, are borne alone by one of the parents. For a common example, the mortgage loan fees on the home where the minor resides, when only one of the parents is listed as a mortgagor.

In conclusion, in order to determine adequate child support which avoids future conflicts, we must do an exhaustive calculation of the needs that it must cover. At ICN LEGAL, we recommend facing these conflicts with special attention to the particular details of each case, because in the end, it’s what allows us to make a difference and protect the most vulnerable party, the child.
 
Isabel Núñez
Partner at ICN LEGAL

 

931 596 272