Child support and holiday gifts

Finances can tear a family apart, and afterward, keep the rift going -- especially when it comes to child support.

At this time of year, most smart parents are already thinking ahead to the holiday season and starting layaway plans for their kids' gifts or developing a budget.

If you're recently divorced, however, you may have a little confusion about how the holiday gift-giving process interacts with the child support process. If you don't understand how the issue works, you could easily end up with an unpleasant surprise. Here are the things you need to know the most:

1. Child support is not meant to cover your share of holiday gifts -- that includes birthday gifts and Christmas presents. If you children celebrate the holiday, you need to come up with an agreement with your ex-spouse about how much you are going to spend on gifts in addition to the presents.

2. This isn't the time, especially if you have younger kids that still believe in Santa Claus, to do anything that points out the inequality between parental incomes (if there is any). It's important to keep the holiday about the kids -- not what you can afford to spend on them.

3. This is one of those times when it really is best to operate as if you were still married. If you and your ex-spouse can manage to work together, you'll greatly ease the frustration and tension that could ruin the holiday by deciding:

  • If the gifts are all going to be delivered to the same house or split between houses
  • If the gifts will all say "from Santa," indicate which parent bought them or just have the kids names on them with no specific indication of who bought them
  • If the gifts are all going to be delivered on the same day or they will come on a mix of days (like Christmas Eve at one parent's home and Christmas Day at the other)
  • If you are going to have all the presents opened at one house, whether the noncustodial spouse is invited to watch

Addressing these kinds of issues early can help you avoid a last-minute custody hearing -- especially because the courts are full of them at the end of the year when the holidays roll around. An attorney can provide more information on child support and custody.

Source: families.com, "Child Support or Parent Support," accessed Sep. 28, 2017

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