In family law and public policy, child support (or child maintenance) is an ongoing, periodic payment made by a parent for the financial benefit of a child (or parent, caregiver, guardian, or state) following the end of a marriage or other relationship. Child maintenance is paid directly or indirectly by an obligor to an obligee for the care and support of children of a relationship that has been terminated, or in some cases never existed. Often the obligor is a non-custodial parent. The obligee is typically a custodial parent, a caregiver, a guardian, or the state.
Depending on the jurisdiction, a custodial parent may pay child support to a non-custodial parent. Typically one has the same duty to pay child support irrespective of sex, so a mother is required to pay support to a father just as a father must pay a mother. In some jurisdictions where there is joint custody, the child is considered to have two custodial parents and no non-custodial parents, and a custodial parent with a higher income (obligor) may be required to pay the other custodial parent (obligee). In other jurisdictions, and even with legally shared residence, unless they can prove exactly equal contributions, one parent will be deemed the non-resident parent for child support and will have to pay the other parent a proportion of their income; the “resident” parent’s income or needs are not assessed.
Spousal support is a series of payments to a separated or ex-spouse according to a divorce decree or separation agreement.
Also known as “alimony,” the idea behind spousal support is to provide a spouse with lower income or lower income potential with financial support. It is not the same as child support.
Generally, to receive spousal support, a spouse must have been financially dependent on the other spouse for most of the marriage. Although calculations and standard amounts vary by state, each party’s ability to earn money, the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties, and health and age all affect the amount.
Spousal support is usually payed monthly. For tax purposes, non-cash payments and voluntary, extra payments do not count as spousal support. However, payments to a third party on behalf of the ex- or separated spouse sometimes qualify as spousal support (medical expenses, housing costs, tuition, etc.).