In-Kind Child Support Payments
One question that comes up every now and then is whether a child support payor is entitled to a credit against their child support and/or alimony obligations for “in-kind” goods and services they have provided to their ex. For example, if instead of writing their ex a $500 check for child support they instead agree to pay their ex’s mortgage, utility bill, or all their children’s medical bills.
The answer depends on whether there is a support order in place yet or not. If there is, you must strictly comply with that order and usually are not entitled to any credit for “in-kind” goods or services you provide. But, if no order is in place, then you may be entitled to a credit for any “in-kind” support you can prove that you provided.
In Knudson v. Utah State Dept. of Social Serv., 660 P.2d 258 (Utah 1983), the Utah Supreme Court held that a divorced father was entitled to a credit against child support for voluntarily paying his ex’s wife mortgage payment during the pendency of their divorce. There was no child support in place at the time. The Court explained that:
In-Kind Child Support Payments
“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 rejectedan obligor’s request for a credit for in-kind goods and services he had been providing to his ex. A child support order was already in place at the time. The Court wrote that:
“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 two cases was whether a child support order was already in place. The Knudson court explained that when no court or administrative order is in place an obligor can seek a credit for in-kind services provided to the support obligee.
Here is 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 diapers, and pays for all the child’s medical and daycare expenses without asking the mother to reimburse him a penny. 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.