Parents have a legal duty to support their children, and the courts have a legal duty to ensure child support orders are entered for every divorce, separation, and paternity action. The right to support is a right of the child, and, in addition to the custodial parent, the child has an independent right to request support and maintenance. Oklahoma law provides that agreements or attempts to deprive a child of support are void as against public policy.
Providing a child gifts or money directly will not be considered by a court to be “payment” in accordance with the child support order. Although the child directly benefits from the any gifts provided, the court will consider them “gifts” and not “child support.” This is in accordance with Oklahoma’s child support guidelines, which follow the income shares model. This model of support aids the custodial parent in payment of necessities for the child. These necessities include: food, housing, clothing, etc. The income shares model calculates the amount of support in a way that seeks to equalize the standard of living at both parents’ homes, so the child does not experience a significant disparity in food or housing at one home. Payment of child support to the custodial parent rather than the child allows for the support to go toward the child’s living expenses directly.
Payment of costs or other expenses for the child as a substitute for child support will also be considered gifts by the court. It is common for parents to have an informal agreement to modify child support, wherein the custodial parent will agree to payment of extracurricular or other expenses directly rather than child support. Because these payments are not made directly to the custodial parent, a court will not credit the child support obligation with these payments.
Non-payment of child support can subject a parent to a contempt action by the custodial parent. Judges will not be sympathetic to the parent that provides gifts (even high value gifts) or pays expenses in lieu of support. Informal agreements with the custodial parent are best memorialized in a court order, in the event the custodial parent fails to honor any payments as “child support.” In short, pay the amount of child support you are ordered to pay, pay it on the date it is due, and do not enter an informal agreement for payment of support without consulting an attorney.