Massachusetts residents may have heard that money is fungible. What this means is that money is interchangeable: any one dollar bill may be substituted for any other one dollar bill and the value and use of each is the same. In essence, money is money and when funds for different purposes are lumped together it does not really matter which individual dollars go to each outstanding financial obligation.
However, divorce-based support payments are not fungible. Although spousal support and child support may be financial obligations paid from one former spouse to another, they may not be mixed together for a common purpose. It is important to recognize that although a single party may pay alimony and child support, those two payments serve two distinct purposes. One is to providesupport to a former spouse. The other is to provide support to one’s noncustodial children.
Spousal support is intended to help a person get back on his or her feet after ending a marriage. The support may be used by the individual to learn a new occupational skill or to complete a degree in order to re-enter the workforce. Spousal support or alimony is for a former spouse to use for his or her needs and should help that individual become financially independent.
Child support, however, serves a very different end. Child support is intended to be used by custodial parents to help their kids lead normal, productive lives. Child support is paid by a noncustodial parent for the benefit of his or her children and may not be used by a custodial parent for personal uses. Child support is for children; spousal support is for adults.
If a noncustodial parent pays his ex-spouse $500 per month in child support and $500 per month in spousal support, then the custodial spouse must use $500 for each of the given purposes. She may not use $600 for herself and $400 for her kids; support payments may not be mixed and reallocated. Once they are paid out, support payments may not be used interchangeably and must be allocated as designated by an agreement or court order.