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Are child support payments subject to maaser?

by Rabbi Dovid Bendory
14 Tishrei 5768 (September 2007)

Whether or not child support payments are subject to maaser depends on how we view such payments.

The expenses incurred in raising a child are not deductible from maaser income as they are considered a part of normal living expenses.

If child support payments are income based, and if the receiving parent is free to use them as s/he sees fit — paying for the home, food, clothing, etc. for children as needed — then they are getting mixed with "normal household expenses" and are no different from alimony or any other income to the receiving parent.

Similarly, if the child support payments are lumped in with alimony, the fact that the court calls one part "alimony" and the other "child support" is irrelevant; the money is all income to the recipient.

But what if child support payments go directly to the children and are not the property of the receiving spouse? In other words, they are used directly to pay for child-rearing expenses — which may include the same food, home, clothing, etc. as above — but these funds are not commingled with normal household expenses. In this case, the parent paying the child support is simply paying for the care and support of the children. This is an expense that is not deductible if my children live at home and I hire a nanny; it is not deductible if my children live outside the home in a dormitory or some such; in this case, it is similarly not deductible. The fact that the children live with the other parent and not in a school dorm doesn't change the situation. The parent who receives these payments is not receiving income but rather acting as a trustee for the children in spending this money in their interest. As for the children, they are receiving clothes, housing, etc., none of which are considered income in this situation any more than they are income at home. Thus the payer pays maaser on the income and then uses it to support his/her children; the money paid is not maaser income for anyone else.

Finally, an older child may be supported by one or both parents. In this case, the child's "income" comes from the support of the parents, and such income is subject to maaser no different from any other income. It is analogous to a gift from tzedakah on which one must pay maaser.

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