Is Having Custody More Expensive than Paying Child Support?


I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent came to me with a desire to change “custody” of their child so they would not have to pay as much in child support. While it is true that a change in parenting time will have a concomitant change in the amount of child support, that fact alone does not mean the change in the amount of child support will save the parent money. Quite the contrary.

I will usually lecture that person on the true costs of raising a child. In reality, the parent who has the primary responsibility for raising the child, this is, the primary residential parent, usually spends far more on the child than the alternate residential

parent. Although the alternate residential parent is usually paying child support to the primary residential parent, the amount being paid is far less than even half the real total costs to raise the child.

There are subtle, hidden, small amounts we all spend on our kids that mount up over time and increase the overall costs of raising a child. The set of Pokemon cards in the check out lane, the kids meal at a popular fast food restaurant, the cool pair of shoes that every other kid is wearing, extra money for the school field trip, the extra cost of a school project, the gas to drive to and from soccer practice, the cost of being on the soccer team, etc. all add up over time and make raising the child as the primary residential parent far more expensive than just paying child support.

The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines attempt to estimate the costs of rearing a child based on the total income of both parents. In theory, the more total income available, the more money will be spend on raising the child. However, studies also show that as total income increases, a smaller proportion of that income is spent on child rearing. In other words, if the total income of both parents is $50,000.00, the amount spent on child rearing might be $12,000.00, or 24% of total income. But, if the total income was $200,000.00, only about $25,000.00, or 12.5% of total income might be spent on the child.

Raising kids is expensive and no one enjoys paying child support to the other parent. However, often paying that child support each month is far cheaper than actually having primary custody of the child and having the additional “hidden” costs. Unfortunately, that advice often goes unheeded and a custody battle ensues, costing even more money in attorney fees and court costs.

If you are considering seeking a change in custody to keep from paying more in child support, you should consider the real costs of raising a child. You might want to heed the advice of the old adage “don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.”


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