In-Kind Child Support Contributions
A common question that comes up in my practice is whether a parent paying child support is entitled to a credit against their child support or alimony obligations for “in-kind” goods and services they provided their ex. For example, instead of writing their ex a check for child support they instead buy their kids groceries, clothing, pay their ex’s mortgage, etc.
The answer depends on whether there is already a formal support order in place. If there is, you must strictly comply with that order and usually are not entitled to credit for “in-kind” goods or services you provide unless your court order explicitly says otherwise. But if no order is in place yet you may be entitled to a credit for “in-kind” support you provided before that order goes into effect.
In the court case of Knudson v. Utah State Dept. of Social Serv., 660 P.2d 258 (Utah 1983), the Utah Supreme Court ruled a divorced father was entitled to a credit against his child support obligations for voluntarily paying his ex’s wife mortgage payment while their divorce case was pending. There was no child support in place at the time. The Court explained that:
“Obligors commonly fulfill their support obligations by a variety of means, including services or commodities in kind. While it may be administratively difficult to ascertain the value of such support in some cases, as the Department argues, we think reality and fairness and even sound administration demand it. As concerns the Public Support of Children Act, the Department of Social Services should shape its administration to measure the reality of parental support, rather than attempt to reshape reality to serve its administration. The measure of the obligor’s credit should be the value of what he has furnished. … Because the admitted value of the housing already provided by appellant (over $1,500) is well in excess of the amount of reimbursement ordered by the Department ($729), we resolve this case without remanding for another proceeding by holding as a matter of law that the Department was not entitled to any reimbursement from the appellant.”
Conversely, in Ross v. Ross, 592 P.2d 600, 603-604 (Utah 1979), the Utah Supreme Court rejected a parent’s request for a credit for in-kind goods and services he provided his ex because a child support order was already in place at the time. The Court wrote:
“Plaintiff next contends that from the time of the divorce to the time this action was brought he made certain voluntary expenditures in behalf of defendant and the children and should be given credit for such payments against the alimony and support arrearages. Plaintiff is not entitled, however to credit for expenditures made on behalf of the children or defendant which do not specifically conform to the terms of the decree. To do so would permit plaintiff to vary the terms of the decree and to usurp from defendant the right to determine the manner in which the money should be spent. Only if the defendant has consented to the plaintiff’s voluntary expenditures as an alternative manner of satisfying his alimony and child support obligation, can plaintiff receive credit for such expenditures.”
The distinction between these cases was whether a child support order was already in place. The Knudson court explained in footnote 5 that when no court or administrative order is in place fixing an obligor’s support obligations then an obligor can seek a credit for in-kind services provided to the support obligee.
I’ll provide an example of when this rule could come in handy. Suppose you have an unmarried couple who have a child together. The parents do not live together, but the father ensures the child never goes without. He always pays the mother’s rent, buys her groceries, and pays for all their child’s medical and daycare expenses without asking her to reimburse him. Then one day the parents have a falling out and the mother files suit demanding 4-years worth of retroactive child support (which she is entitled to do under Utah law). The “in-kind” contribution rule would be a saving grace to a father under such circumstances provided he could show that he had in fact been supporting his child all along.
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